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North Korea launches two missiles in new test for Trump
[TOKYO] North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, a move that comes as it has threatened to walk away from sputtering nuclear talks unless President Donald Trump offers up concessions by year end.
The missiles were fired from North Korea's east coast, traveling a distance of about 380km and reaching a height of about 100km, Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono told reporters. South Korea's Defence Ministry provided similar data on the flights and called the launches "regrettable."
The latest test comes two years to the date since leader Kim Jong Un's regime last test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting all of the US. Mr Kim put a brief freeze on testing after that and then resumed firing with a vengeance from May, sending off about two dozen missiles - almost all of them short-range ballistic missiles.
"Kim considers Trump as his political hostage and sees himself in a position to dictate the terms of the deal by demonstrating his capability to influence Trump's chance for re-election," said Chun Yungwoo, South Korea's former chief envoy to international nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea.
The missiles tested on Thursday appear to be North Korea's KN-25, a solid-fuel rocket that is designed to fire off in rapid succession from a mobile launcher that typically holds four tubes. A series of shorter-range missile launches in recent months has improved North Korea's ability to make solid-fuel ballistic missiles that are easier to move, hide and fire than many of its liquid-fuel versions.
"These tests help improve their solid-fuel motors and not only is it good for their short-range systems, it would likely make their long-range missiles quicker and more powerful," said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert and deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network.
Mr Kim's testing freeze ushered in unprecedented diplomacy with Mr Trump, leading to historic meetings in Singapore, Vietnam and the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. But Mr Kim and Mr Trump have little to show for their negotiations, with the US and North Korea unable to agree on what they mean by denuclearisation.
Mr Kim has been busy churning out fissile material for bombs and developing new missile technology that could make the next big launch of an ICBM even more concerning to Pentagon military planners, weapons experts have said.
Trump has brushed off North Korea's missile tests, which Japan and others say violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, signaling to Mr Kim that he can continue developing his weapons programme as long as he doesn't fire off another ICBM.
Mr Kim has given Trump until the end of the year to ease up on sanctions choking his state's paltry economy. In recent weeks his top cadres have been quoted in official media as expressing frustration by what they saw as US inflexibility. The Trump team has said North Korea can only get rewards when it completely gives up nuclear arms - a move Pyongyang has said would be tantamount to political suicide.
"We, without being given anything, gave things the US president can brag about but the US side has not yet taken any corresponding step," a spokesman for the State Affairs Commission headed by Mr Kim said earlier this month. He added that the US will face a "greater threat" if it does nothing.