North Korea experts echoed national governments in condemning Pyongyang’s recent weapons tests, but the they also urged the United States not to overreact to the latest gambit by Kim Jong Un and his regime.
According to the state-run KCNA, Kim Jong Un personally attended the tests on May 3, when three separate weapons systems were fired. Images of the fired weapons indicate that one of the weapons was a short range ballistic missile.
Bloomberg reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the weapons “were relatively short range,” playing down the tests. The report also noted that the tests technically don’t go against Kim’s pledge not to test long range missiles capable of hitting U.S. territory.
The test has been seen as North Korea airing its frustrations over the stalled denuclearization and sanctions-relief negotiations with the United States, following the abrupt end of the February Hanoi Summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Several governments released statements about the tests, saying that Pyongyang needs to make meaningful progress toward denuclearization and to resume dialogue with the U.S.
“France condemns these missile launches and calls on North Korea to refrain from any further provocation, as the UN Security Council has requested it to do so,” said France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.
The statement said that complete denuclearization was a prerequisite for lasting peace in Northeast Asia.
“Until this goal is achieved, the UN Security Council sanctions must be fully and effectively implemented. This is a key point with respect to convincing North Korea to give up its illegal activities, which jeopardize international security and the non-proliferation regime,” said the statement.
Britain echoed France’s remarks, saying it “fully supports the U.S. in its efforts to achieve North Korean denuclearization and until their nuclear and ballistic missile programs are dismantled, international sanctions must remain in place and be fully enforced.”
Meanwhile at a press briefing Monday, the UN said the launches were unhelpful.
“We are very much aware of the recent launches by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and that “such an action serves only to increase tensions in the region,” said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for the secretary general.
“The Secretary-General continues to closely follow the developments and encourages all parties to continue their dialogue to advance sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization on the Korean peninsula,” said Dujarric.
Several experts said the tests were a North Korean signal to the Trump administration.
“I think North Korea is reminding President Trump that its current smile diplomacy will not last forever unless the United States provide some benefits,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Non-Proliferation.
“Kim Jong Un is displaying his displeasure over the failed Hanoi summit. I think he will be ready to ramp up the pressure with more such tests in hopes of striking a deal with President Trump,” he said.
David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warned the U.S. not to give in to North Korea’s demands in the wake of the tests.
“If the U.S. does make concessions this time, we will further embolden Kim Jong Un and as well strengthen his internal position,” he said.
“He’s off-balanced due to Hanoi. The U.S. and the international community should not make any concessions and must maintain maximum pressure. And, I mean real maximum pressure by aggressively enforcing all existing sanctions and the use of secondary sanctions as necessary,” said Maxwell.
The Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Klingner offered several interpretations of what the tests could mean.
“It could simply be military exercises. Even though the U.S. and South Korea curtailed our exercises, North Korea has not reciprocated,” he said.
“Or it could be meant as a signal to the U.S. that it wants Washington to adopt a more flexible negotiating position. Or, it could be a signal to Seoul to try to put pressure on the Moon administration to further reduce military exercises in the South. Even though we reduced ours, North Korea could continue to criticize any kind of US-South Korea military exercises.”
Like Maxwell, he urged the U.S. not to concede anything to North Korea, but he also warned against any punitive response.
“It is important for the U.S. not to overreact, either a return to the fire and fury threatening rhetoric or to become to so eager for an agreement that we lower the requirements for North Korean actions from the requirements that North Korea has under 11 U.N. resolutions to abandon its nuclear and missile arsenals,” he said.
“So far, the administration seems to be doing that, trying to downplay the impact the missile activities will have on the negotiations,” said Klingner
Stapleton Roy, the former U.S. Ambassador to China and a former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, said that the Trump administration is right to take a cautious approach to the weapons tests.
He said that countering provocative North Korean actions with equal provocation benefits neither side.
“But I think it would be extremely detrimental for North Korea as well as for the rest of us if they were to resume full missile testing. So I hope that this is an aberration rather than a pattern that’s leading to longer range missile tests,” said Stapleton.
Friday’s military exercise marked the first time in over a year that North Korea tested a ballistic missile.
Additional reporting by RFA’s Korean Service.