Seoul (CNN)North Korea has tested a “newly developed ultramodern” weapon in an event supervised by leader Kim Jong Un, state media said Friday, amid faltering nuclear disarmament negotiations with the United States.
“He’s tiptoeing towards a more aggressive posture in negotiations with the US and he’s signaling that he’s not going to give way and can simply return to his old practices if (the US) don’t change their approach,” Josh Pollack, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey, told CNN.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA announced the test on Friday morning, providing no details on the location of the event and little information about the weapon itself other than it was “tactical” and had been commissioned “personally” by Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il.
A South Korean government source with military knowledge told CNN the weapon was likely a piece of long-range artillery “likely to be a multiple rocket launcher.”
“As it is a tactical weapon test, we do not view it as a North Korean military provocation,” the source said.
It marks the first time Kim has publicly attended such a blatantly military-focused event since his high-profile summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump in early 2018.
“Chairman Kim Jong Il had chosen personally and directed step by step with his special attention paid to it was born at last,” the KCNA article said.
Despite huge hopes for a breakthrough following the international summits with Moon and Trump, little progress has been made in recent months.
In a separate development on Friday, North Korea announced it would deport a US citizen who it claimed had crossed the border “illegally” from China.
The man, identified as Bruce Byron Lowrance, reportedly entered North Korea on October 16, saying he was under “the control of the US Central Intelligence Agency” at the time, according to KCNA.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul told CNN he was unable to comment on individual cases “for privacy concerns.” CNN has reached out to the US State Department and the South Korean government for further comment.
Pollack said the weapon test was the latest “veiled threat” from Pyongyang to US that if progress wasn’t made soon, a more hostile relationship could be back on the table.
“What kind of weapon this may be is perfectly ambiguous … but they did attribute it to the Academy of National Defense Sciences and they are associated with the missile program,” he said.
Shin Beom-chol, a researcher at the Seoul-based Asan Institute, said although the exact type of weapon was unknown, it was unlikely to be a missile as South Korea would have detected it.
“North Korea did not go on into any further detail about this test because they probably didn’t want the situation escalating out of proportion,” he told CNN.
Speaking after the announcement of the weapon’s test, South Korean Unification Ministry deputy spokeswoman Lee Eu-gene downplayed the significance of the event, saying Kim had been continuing his inspections in the military sector “intermittently.”