North’s new weapon not ballistic, says U.S.North Korea’s weapons test this week did not involve a ballistic missile, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Thursday, hours after Pyongyang announced the test.
The test-firing of what the North called a new “tactical guided weapon” took place Wednesday under the supervision of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to the country’s state media.
It was seen by analysts as a bid to increase Pyongyang’s leverage in deadlocked negotiations with Washington to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for the removal of U.S.-led sanctions on the regime.
“I’m not going to go into the detailed intelligence, but the way I’d characterize it is, it’s not a ballistic missile,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon as he met with his Albanian counterpart. “And then also there’s no change to our posture or to our operations.”
North Korea has refrained from conducting ballistic missile or nuclear tests since late 2017 to aid high-level diplomacy with the United States.
At their second summit in Vietnam in February, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un failed to strike any deal due to differences over the scope of the North’s denuclearization and sanctions relief from the United States.
Last month, Choe Son-hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, threatened to abandon the negotiations, saying the regime had no intention to give in to Washington’s “gangster-like” demands.
She also said Kim would decide soon whether to pursue talks and maintain his moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
Shanahan was asked what message the North appears to be sending to the United States - both with the test and its call for replacing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a “more mature” negotiator.
“I’d give you a thoughtful answer in terms of all those messages,” he answered. “But what I would offer is, usually within the first 24 hours, you want to review the intelligence.”
“The test or the launch, depending on how you want to characterize it, was not a ballistic missile,” he said, “so I think that’s a statement in and of itself.”
He continued to strike a cautious tone.
“When you integrate these other messages, you could derive many different conclusions,” Shanahan said. “I would say let us look at the intelligence that we’ve gathered and then formulate really kind of what the message is. You can interpret a lot of things. I’m not going to rush to judgment.”
Meanwhile, the “new tactical guided weapon” that North Korea claimed to have test-fired this week is believed to be a weapon for ground combat, not a ballistic missile, an officer of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday.
“We see it as a guided weapon for the purpose of ground battles,” the officer said on condition of anonymity, adding it does not appear to be a ballistic missile.
While noting that such an assessment was made jointly with the U.S. authorities, he refused to give any further details.
According to analysts, the new weapon appeared to have traveled a short distance at a low altitude, which could be a short-range guided missile like the Israeli-made Spike missile with a range of around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles).