SEOUL: North Korea said on Monday that it successfully tested newly developed long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, the first known testing activity in months, underscoring how the country continues to expand its military capabilities amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the United States.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the missiles showed they can hit targets 1,500 kilometres away on Saturday and Sunday. State media published photos of a projectile being fired from a launcher truck and what looked like a missile traveling in the air.

The North hailed its new missiles as a strategic weapon of great significance wording that implies they were developed with the intent to arm them with nuclear warheads.

North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons in order to deter what it claims is hostility from the US and South Korea and has long attempted to use the threat of such an arsenal to extract much-needed economic aid or otherwise apply pressure. The North and ally China faced off against South Korea and US-led UN forces in the 1950-53 Korean War, a conflict that ended in an armistice that has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty.

The international community is bent on getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and the promise of economic help to try to influence the North. But US-led negotiations on the nuclear issue have been stalled since the collapse of a summit between then-US President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un in 2019. At that time, the Americans rejected Kim’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear complex.

North Korea ended a yearlong pause in ballistic tests in March by firing two short-range missiles into the sea, continuing a tradition of testing new US administrations to measure Washington’s response. Kim’s government has so far rejected the Biden administrations overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon its hostile policies first a reference to the US maintaining sanctions and a military alliance with South Korea.

The United States keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.

There hadn’t been any known test launches for months since March, as Kim focused his efforts on fending off the coronavirus and salvaging an economy damaged by sanctions, bad flooding in recent summers, and border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Experts have warned that the economic situation is dire, although monitoring groups have yet to detect signs of mass starvation or major instability.

The report of the tests comes before US President Joe Biden’s special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, was to meet his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss the stalled nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

South Korea’s military is analysing the North Korean launches based on US and South Korean intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said after a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne that the resumption of testing activity illustrates an urgent need for reviving diplomacy with the North.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2021

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