North Korea yesterday said it had test-fired a newly developed anti-aircraft missile in the fourth round of weapons firings in the past few weeks, even as it pushes to reopen dormant communication channels with South Korea in a small reconciliation step.
Last month, North Korea resumed its first missile tests in six months, but still offered conditional talks with Seoul in what some experts say is an apparent attempt to extract sanctions relief and other outside concessions.
Earlier this week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is willing to restore communication hotlines with South Korea to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency said that the anti-aircraft missile test was “of very practical significance in studying and developing various prospective anti-aircraft missile systems.”
It said the test was aimed at confirming the practicality of operation of the launcher, radar and battle command vehicle as well as the combat performance of the missile.
South Korea, Japan and the US usually confirm North Korean missile launches soon after they occur, but did not do so for the latest test, indicating that it might not have been a major weapons test.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said that South Korean and US intelligence authorities monitored related moves by North Korea, but did not elaborate.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that the launch appears to be the primitive stage of a test to develop a missile designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles and aircraft.
He said the missile resembles the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which he said has a maximum range of 400km and is reportedly capable of intercepting radar-evading stealth jets.
While Kim Jong-un said that he intends to reopen inter-Korean hotlines during a speech at the North Korean legislature, he also shrugged off US offers for dialogue as a “cunning” concealment of its hostility against the North.
He also reiterated the North’s demands that South Korea abandon a “double-dealing attitude” over the North’s missile tests if Seoul wants to see the resumption of talks and major cooperation steps.
South Korea has said it would prepare for the restoration of the hotlines, which it called necessary to resolve many pending issues.
The cross-border telephone and fax lines have been largely dormant for more than a year.
As of yesterday morning, North Korea remained unresponsive to Seoul’s attempts to exchange messages over the channels, the South Korean Unifications Ministry said.
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