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Trump brushes off North’s missile tests

Washington and Pyongyang don’t want to alienate each other

July 29,2019
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday brushed off North Korea’s latest missile tests, claiming that they involved short range, “very standard” weapons.

Trump was unconcerned about Pyongyang’s firing of two ballistic missiles from its eastern coast on Thursday, remarking on them with the same insouciance as he did after two similar tests last May.

When a reporter commented that he didn’t appear worried about the newest launches, the president answered “Nope, not at all.”

The North’s state media reported Friday that leader Kim Jong-un had personally supervised the launches in order to send “a solemn warning to the South Korean military warmongers who are running high fever in their moves to introduce the ultra-modern offensive weapons into South Korea and hold [a] military exercise in defiance of the repeated warnings.”

Trump stressed that this message from the North “didn’t say a warning to the United States,” attributing it to “the two of them hav[ing] their disputes,” in an apparent reference to tensions between the two Koreas.

“But they are short-range missiles and very standard missiles,” he added.

In a Fox News interview on Thursday, Trump downplayed the North’s provocations in his first public reaction, saying that “they haven’t done nuclear testing” and “haven’t tested missiles other than, you know, smaller ones, which is something that lots test.”

His Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, echoed Trump’s detachment in his own interview with Bloomberg TV, remarking that “everybody tries to get ready for negotiations and create leverage, and create risks for the other side.”

Other members of the international community did not share this indifference. Germany, which chairs the United Nations (UN) Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea, issued a statement to Radio Free Asia through its UN mission that condemned Pyongyang’s missile tests as a violation of UN resolutions.

According to Radio Free Asia, the German mission to the UN’s spokesperson, Kathrin Deschauer, said through the statement that the launches strengthened doubts on North Korea’s willingness to carry out the dismantlement of its nuclear program and weapons stockpile.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, on Friday expressed concern over the launches and called for a swift resumption of talks between the United States and North Korea as agreed upon between Trump and Kim in their snap meeting in the demilitarized zone last month.

Some analysts, like former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, saw Trump’s reaction to the North’s provocations as a risk to Washington’s ties with its allies in Asia.

“Trump already damaged alliance solidarity and deterrence when he demonstrated during his state visit to Tokyo in May that he would give North Korea a pass on missiles aimed at America’s allies, rather than the United States,” Russel told Reuters.

Both North Korea and the United States reluctance to put blame on each other suggests neither wants to risk derailing denuclearization talks before they begin anew.

Sources say Washington explained the meaning of the 19-2, so-called “Dong Maeng” joint military exercises with South Korea to Pyongyang through their communication channel in New York after the latter issued statements slamming the drills as a violation of trust between the two sides.

The North has made South Korea its primary scapegoat in an effort to crank up pressure before dialogue resumes.

On Sunday, the country’s leading state news outlet, the Rodong Sinmun, released a commentary that claimed “an aggressive group in South Korea’s military is secretly conducting various types of joint military exercises with the U.S. military aimed at” North Korea.

A day earlier, another state-controlled news outlet, the Japan-based Choson Sinbo, called on South Korea to accept Pyongyang’s warnings and stop its weapons imports lest “the future of the nation” remains stagnant.

Without mentioning South Korea’s leader by name, Kim warned President Moon Jae-in to “stop such suicidal act” like the drills and “come back to the proper stand” of their summits in April and September last year.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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