North Korean missile tests increase concern and confusion as to what is...

North Korean missile tests increase concern and confusion as to what is coming next

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper speaks during a press briefing with Minister of National Defense of South Korea Jeong Kyeong-doo after the Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 15, 2019. (DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

WASHINGTON — Another weekend, another missile test by North Korea, joined by stronger words from Washington and Pyongyang indicating a hardening of positions on the future nuclear status of the peninsula.

The weekend launch followed one on December 7 that was called “very important’ by the North Korean media. The tests are viewed as an effort by North Korea to get economic concessions from the U.S. as a prerequisite to resuming talks on the nuclear status of the peninsula.

However, U.S. officials said they are not budging.

“On his point, let me be absolutely clear: The United States does not have a deadline,” Stephen Biegun, the U.S. negotiator, told reporters today in South Korea, according to AP.

“We are fully aware of the strong potential for North Korea to conduct a major provocation in the days ahead,” he said. “To say the least, such an action will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea has conducted more than a dozen tests this year, despite three high-profile summits between President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim has promised Washington a “Christmas gift” in regard to missile testing. The last time Kim made a similar statement was in 2017 when referred to the first test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile as a “gift” for Washington on the Fourth of July holiday.

In recent weeks, North Korea has reopened its Sohae Satellite Launching Station and resumed testing what Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials, South Korean and Japanese analysts have said and private experts my be components of a solid-fuel rocket engine, according to news reports.

Such tests would point to elements that could be used in an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching parts of the U.S., an escalation Pentagon officials said would merit possible pushback, they said in interviews.

Kim has declared the U.S. has until December 31 to offer a new proposal to resume talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula in exchange for easing economic sanctions on his nation. So far U.S. officials have demurred on offering new things to meet that deadline.

The analysts said the next missile test could be disguised as a satellite launch to avoid the appearance of direct military hostility.

Kim is scheduled to attend the end-of-the-year North Korean Workers Party meeting and expected to give a New Year’s address that may outline his plans.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said last week that denuclearization was off the table in negotiations with Washington. He charged the previous talks and proposals had been a “time-saving trick” to benefit a “domestic political agenda.”

In response, last week Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell warned North Korea against resuming any “unfortunate ill-advised behavior” while the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, said Washington is prepared to “simultaneously take concrete steps toward a deal.”

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