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(News Focus) N.K. projectile launch reveals growing impatience over stalled nuke talks with U.S.

North Korea 13:39 May 04, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's launch of unidentified short-range projectiles on Saturday highlighted its growing impatience over stalled nuclear talks with the United States and a lack of progress in inter-Korean economic cooperation, analysts said.

Pyongyang fired several projectiles into the East Sea from the areas near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan in the morning, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. They flew around 70 to 200 kilometers, and some analysts said the firings appear to have involved multiple rocket launchers, rather than ballistic missiles.

This image shows the North's launch of unidentified projectiles into the East Sea on May 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

The launch is the latest in a recent series of the North's subtle military moves that appear intended to increase pressure on the U.S. to show flexibility in nuclear negotiations and on the South to take its side, as well as to underscore its will not to back down militarily.

But Pyongyang's moves appear to have been carefully calibrated and modulated not to provoke Washington to the extent that diplomacy would be derailed in what would be a blow to its push to ease international sanctions and advance its economic agenda.

"The latest move appears aimed at pressuring the U.S. and expressing its frustration (over the deadlocked negotiations)," Park Won-gon, professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said.

"For the time being, the North could ratchet up tensions, but I think it will return to dialogue again (after such military moves)," he added.

Since the breakdown of the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February, the North has been seen scaling up its low-intensity military moves.

On April 16, Kim oversaw an air force exercise. The following day, he observed a test of a new "tactical" guided weapon. Then came the launch of the short-range projectiles this week.

The military moves came alongside Pyongyang's demands for Washington to come up with the "right methodology" and replace U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a "more careful and mature" negotiator.

The military activities involved tactical-level, short-range assets that do not pose any serious security challenge to the U.S. -- an indication that it still wants to keep dialogue alive.

The nuclear parley between Washington and Pyongyang has hit an impasse due to differences over their approaches to the communist state's denuclearization.

The U.S. has been pushing for a comprehensive approach to the North's nuclear disarmament under which it wants to strike a broad-based deal that would be implemented step by step. But the North has stuck to an incremental, piecemeal approach that critics say appears intended to string out negotiations and wring out more concessions.

Striving to close their gaps and facilitate the resumption of the negotiations between the U.S. and the North, the South has also faced a dilemma.

Washington has wanted Seoul to put up a united front as an ally, while Pyongyang has been pressuring its southern neighbor to take its side as the "direct party" promoting the interests of ethnic Koreans, rather than playing a role as an intermediary.

The North is expected to carefully watch the outcome of the visit to Seoul next week by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.

Biegun and his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon are expected to discuss ways to break a logjam in the nuclear talks, including the possible provision of humanitarian assistance to the North, which has suffered severe food shortage due to droughts, dry spells and floods

The stalled nuclear talks between the U.S. and the North have taken a toll on inter-Korean cooperation projects.

Since the Hanoi summit, Pyongyang has not responded to Seoul's call to proceed with a series of projects under last year's agreement to reduce military tensions and build confidence, forcing the South to independently carry it out.

Cross-border economic cooperation has also made little headway due to the U.S.-led international sanctions regime.

The North's sense of frustration also comes from its apparent failure to gain full support from its traditional major-power allies, China and Russia.

Beijing has appeared reluctant to offer full support for its cash-strapped ally amid grueling trade negotiations with Washington, the outcome of which could affect China's efforts to address its economic slowdown.

Pyongyang's summit with Moscow last week appears to have fallen short of its expectations amid U.S. pressure on Russia to support the ongoing campaign to put the communist state on a denuclearization track through sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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