- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Trump administration scrambled Thursday to interpret North Korea’s latest short-range missile launches, while private analysts said Pyongyang likely conducted the tests in an attempt to gain leverage ahead of an anticipated renewal of nuclear talks with Washington.

“Reports of another North Korean weapons test shouldn’t come as a surprise. This latest move seems like an attempt to restart negotiations with the United States, not a provocation or security threat,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, senior fellow with the Defense Priorities think tank in Washington.

North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea off its eastern coastline Thursday in its first weapons launches in more than two months. South Korean officials said the missiles were fired from mobile launchers and flew at a maximum altitude of 30 miles.

Some analysts said the tests, coupled with recent photographs showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a newly built military submarine, were a clear provocation and an attempt by the Kim regime to pre-empt joint U.S.-South Korea military drills slated for next month.

“The latest short-range missile tests are similar to the ones North Korea conducted in May this year,” said Srinivasan Sitaraman, a foreign affairs analyst and professor at Clark University.

“But juxtaposed with the pictures of Kim Jong Un in front of a submarine capable of carrying nuclear ballistic missiles, clearly North Korea is signaling to the United States and South Korea that it is displeased with proposed military exercises,” Mr. Sitaraman said in comments circulated to reporters Thursday.

“This also suggests that both the United States and North Korea are a very far away from a proposed denuclearization deal,” he said.

Others said North Korea is trying to get an upper hand ahead of a possible resumption of talks. Pyongyang wants widespread sanctions relief so it can revive its dilapidated economy. U.S. officials demand North Korea first take significant steps toward disarmament before they will relinquish the leverage provided by the sanctions.

The Associated Press on Thursday quoted analyst Kim Dae-young at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy as saying Pyongyang “appears to be thinking its diplomacy with the U.S. isn’t proceeding in a way that they want. So they’ve fired missiles to get the table to turn in their favor.”

The news agency cited a senior U.S. official as saying the Trump administration was aware of the reported launches. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration had no further comment.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Davis, meanwhile, argued that Washington should not be deterred from continuing to pursue diplomacy with North Korea and suggested the administration should pursue a gradual approach to negotiations.

“Engaging in diplomacy toward peace and the normalization of relations between the Koreas could result in progress on other issues, such as freezes or rollbacks in North Korea’s missile program, and denuclearization as an eventual goal,” he said in comments circulated by Defense Priorities on Thursday. “North Korean missile tests are an irritant that should not sway the United States from that path.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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