- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2021

North Korea on Tuesday carried out what authorities believe was the isolated nation’s third submarine-launched ballistic missile test, a fresh provocation at a moment when the Biden administration is pleading with the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to reenter stalled talks over its nuclear programs.

The Kim regime has continued to abide by a moratorium on nuclear and long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests agreed to with former President Donald Trump. However, Tuesday’s test signaled a new level of provocation by the Kim regime in the face of repeated peace overtures from Washington and Seoul.

South Korean military officials said the short-range ballistic missile used in the test may have been launched from a North Korean submarine — a potentially dramatic advancement over the Kim regime’s past sea-launched missile tests, which were carried out from barges on the surface.

The South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Yonhap news agency that the launch occurred from waters east of Sinpo, a city on the North’s east coast, with the missile traveling roughly 365 miles at a top altitude of about 38 miles.

Sinpo is home to a construction facility that U.S. intelligence has cited as a possible location where the North Korean regime is building a 3,200-ton missile-launching submarine, according to Yonhap.

The most recent analysis of North Korean military capabilities by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported “improvements and expansion at Sinpo Shipyard,” which military officials said may indicate that the North Koreans are in the process of building a submarine “with the capability to carry and fire more than one missile at a time.”

The DIA analysis said North Korea currently has four different levels of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in development, including the Pukguksong-4 and the Pukguksong-5, which were seen on display at military parades in October 2020 and January 2021, respectively.

However, U.S. and South Korean officials on Tuesday did not definitively confirm that the latest test launch was actually an SLBM. The Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Command condemned the launch, but only that it did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory or that of its allies.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ office also condemned the launch, with officials in New York calling on the Kim regime to comply with existing U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban ballistic missile launches.

Japan’s military said its initial analysis on Tuesday suggested the North fired two ballistic missiles. New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who suspended campaigning ahead of new elections to return to Tokyo to deal with the launch, said officials were examining whether they were SLBMs.

North Korea‘s previous SLBM tests were carried out in 2016 and 2019.

Pyongyang has been pushing hard for years to acquire an ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles from submarines, the next key piece in Mr. Kim’s arsenal that includes a broad range of road-mobile missiles and ICBMs with potential range to reach the U.S. Still, experts say it would take years, resources and major technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build even a small fleet of submarines that could travel quietly in seas and reliably execute strikes.

Tuesday’s test came hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on North Korea‘s nuclear weapons program, with U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Sung Kim slated to meet with his South Korean counterparts over the coming days to discuss the prospects of reviving talks with Pyongyang.

Talks have been stalled for more than two years, following a string of historic diplomatic summits between former Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim. Yonhap reported that China, considered Pyongyang’s only ally and economic lifeline, called on all sides to lower the tensions.

“Each relevant country should think from a broad perspective, maintain restraint and make efforts to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told reporters in Beijing at a briefing.

The 2018 Singapore summit and subsequent 2019 Hanoi summit ultimately failed to deliver an agreement for North Korea to relinquish the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals built up over decades in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, in exchange for relief from punishing economic sanctions on the North.

However, the Kim regime has held to a moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests that Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump agreed to at the onset of the historic summits — even as Pyongyang has engaged in waves of short- and medium-range missile tests and other provocations over the past year.

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

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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