North Korea said Friday it has tested a new type of cruise missile that is a powerful means of attacking enemy warships, a day after South Korea’s military detected projectiles fired from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan. The missiles represent the fourth new missile system North Korea said it has introduced and successfully tested this year alone, sending a defiant message to its enemies that it will continue to pursue a weapons program that has rattled its neighbors and Washington. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the launches, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, which said the missiles “accurately detected and hit” floating targets at sea after making “circular flights.”
The missiles, which the South said flew about 200 kilometers (125 miles), were tested in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, where U.S. aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan participated in joint exercises with the South Korean navy that ended earlier this week. “This new-type cruise rocket is a powerful attack means capable of striking any enemy group of battleships” attempting to attack North Korea and can be used “at will,” the KCNA report said.
The North’s missile tests present a difficult challenge to new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has expressed a desire to reach out to the North. North Korea, which could have a working nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile in the next several years, may also be the most urgent foreign policy concern for the Trump administration, which has been distracted by domestic political turmoil and has insisted China do more to rein in the North’s weapons activities. South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said the launch was intended to show off Pyongyang’s widening arrange of missiles and also its “precision strike capabilities” on ships in response to the joint drills.
Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sacha Llorentty Soliz, the current U.N. Security Council president, told reporters Thursday he had not received any requests for a meeting on the latest launches. Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft condemned North Korea’s “latest provocations” and said “we look forward to working with our council colleagues about the best way to respond to them.” He added that it was possible the launches were “underneath a threshold to count as a violation” of U.N. sanctions against North Korea that ban certain nuclear and missile tests. The Security Council voted unanimously on June 2 to add 15 individuals and four entities linked to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs to a U.N. sanctions blacklist. That was in response to previous ballistic missile tests that violate U.N. sanctions.
North Korea’s weapons tests are meant to build a nuclear and missile program that can stand up to what it sees as U.S. and South Korean hostility, but they are also considered by outside analysts as ways to make its political demands clear to leaders in Washington and Seoul. Analysts say the latest test appeared to be aimed at keeping up pressures on Moon to wrest concessions. Moon has sought to expand cross-border civilian exchanges as a way to improve ties, but North Korea on Monday rejected a Seoul civic group’s offer to provide anti-malaria supplies to protest South Korea’s support of fresh U.N. sanctions adopted last week.
In what will likely become another source of animosities, Moon’s government said it will let two of the four North Korean fishermen recently rescued at sea resettle in the South in accordance with their wishes. The two other fishermen who want to return home were repatriated on Friday. Pyongyang is expected to demand the return of all four fishermen by accusing Seoul of enticing them to defect to the South.
Last month, North Korea premiered a powerful new midrange missile that outside experts said flew higher than any other missile previously tested by North Korea. The North in following weeks launched a solid-fuel midrange missile that can be fired on shorter notice than liquid fuel missiles, and also what it described a new ”precision-guided” missile, which experts say is designed with a maneuverable terminal stage meant to frustrate missile defense systems like the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense that is being deployed in South Korea.