- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2019

North Korea’s test Wednesday of what was believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile was a strategic move by Pyongyang to gain an upper hand over the U.S. in nuclear talks slated to restart this weekend after a months-long stall, national security insiders said.

The test, just hours after the North had announced plans to rejoin working-level nuclear talks with Washington, was likely designed to pressure the U.S. side into an “arms control negotiation” rather than the denuclearization discussion sought by the Trump administration, said David Maxwell, a retired U.S. Special Forces officer focused on North Korea.

“If we shift to an arms control process, Kim wins,” Mr. Maxwell, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said in comments circulated to reporters Wednesday morning.

Others were equally wary of Pyongyang’s move.

“It seems North Korea wants to make its negotiating position quite clear before talks even begin,” said Harry Kazianis, the head of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington.

Pyongyang, through more tests of what are most likely short-range missiles or advances artillery-style weapons, is eager to remind Washington of its military capabilities — especially as South Korea just recently displayed its new F-35 stealth fighter purchase,” Mr. Kazianis said.

North Korea’s message is clear: our capacity to cause trouble is increasing by the day. Pyongyang seems set to push Washington to back off from past demands of full denuclearization for what are only promises of sanctions relief,” he said, also in comments emailed to reporters.

South Korean military officials said Wednesday that the North had fired what appeared to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile from waters off its east coast.

The missile was believed to be a type of Pukguksong, a North Korean SLBM, according to a report by the South’s Yonhap News Agency, which noted that, if confirmed, the launch will mark the Pyongyang’s first SLBM test since August 2016.

There was no immediate response from the Trump administration and it was not clear how the development may ultimately impact the restart of working-level nuclear talks between U.S. and North Korean officials.

Sources have told The Washington Times that U.S. negotiators plan to push their North Korean counterparts for concrete steps toward denuclearization in exchange for limited counter steps by Washington when the two sides meet this weekend for their first working-level talks since February’s failed Hanoi summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korean officials revealed Tuesday in a brief notice in the state official press that the lower-level discussions will resume after a seven-month break, a meeting confirmed shortly afterward by a State Department spokeswoman.

With the Hanoi talks having collapsed over Mr. Kim’s demand that U.S. deliver sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial dismantling of his nuclear arsenal, analysts say the U.S. side is likely to embrace a “step-by-step” approach to negotiations and see what the North Korean side brings to the table.

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