(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 11-14)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Sunday that it successfully tested a "new" super-large multiple rocket launch system the previous day under the guidance of leader Kim Jong-un.
Kim "guided the test-fire of newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher on Saturday," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in English. "The test-fire proved that all the tactical and technological specifications of the system correctly reached the preset indexes."
The KCNA added that Kim underscored the need to push for "an indomitable offensive campaign" and intensify the development of its own style of strategic and tactical weapons "for resolutely frustrating the ever-mounting military threats and pressure offensive of the hostile forces."
On Saturday, South Korea's military announced that the North fired two projectiles presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast, saying both flew around 380 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 97 km.
Guiding the test, Kim called the rocket launch "a great weapon" and appreciated that "our young national defense scientists are so clever as to conceive out of their own heads and design and complete the weapon system at one go-off although they have never seen it," according to the KCNA.
The North has rarely described its short-range rockets as "super-large" before.
The North Korean leader also underscored "the need to push ahead with an indomitable offensive campaign ... to step up the development of Korean-style strategic and tactical weapons for resolutely frustrating the ever-mounting military threats and pressure offensive of the hostile forces," according to the KCNA.
Kim also marked Aug. 24 as "an unforgettable good day," recalling that on the same day three years ago "we succeeded even in a few strategic underwater ballistic missile test-firing which the world has ever seen," a reference to the country's firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The KCNA reported that senior party and military officials, including Ri Pyong-chol and Kim Jong-sik, accompanied the leader's guidance, and the photos the North released showed that the leader's younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, was also at the scene although she was not cited by the media
To give high marks to its new weapon system, the North released Sunday several photo images, showing the mobile rocket launcher, loaded on a military truck and equipped with four launching tubes.
South Korean experts said the new weapon may pose another major challenge to South Korea's defense system against the North.
With a range of at least 400 kilometers, the "super-large" multiple rocket launcher puts all of South Korea's core strategic defense facilities within its reach, including the U.S. Forces Korea's headquarters in Pyeongtaek and the Gyeryongdae headquarters of the South Korean armed forces near Daejeon.
"A multiple rocket launcher could frustrate the enemy's key military facilities by firing (multiple rockets) simultaneously in a short period of time," said Kwon Yong-soo, a former professor at Korea National Defense University.
A rocket fired from a multiple rocket launcher with a caliber of 400 millimeters or more is capable of flying as far as a short-range missile does, but it is more difficult to intercept because it is fired in multiple numbers simultaneously.
The firings marked the ninth round of such launches this year and the seventh round in about just a month since late July. The North last launched two projectiles presumed to be short-range projectile missiles on Aug. 16, though Pyongyang later claimed that it tested a "new weapon," without providing more details.
North Korea has conducted these weapons tests in protest against a joint military drill between South Korea and the United States, which it has long denounced as a rehearsal for invasion.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim made a "little apology" in a letter to him for testing short-range missiles and promised that the testing will stop after the end of the military exercise.
As the exercise concluded last week, speculation arose that Washington and Pyongyang might soon resume their stalled denuclearization talks. Top U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun's trip to Seoul last week, which coincided with the end of the military drill, also raised the prospect of talks.
North Korea, however, has doubled down on its criticism of South Korea and the U.S. On Friday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho issued a rare statement in the name of the country's top envoy and warned that it would be a miscalculation if the U.S. confronts Pyongyang with sanctions.
Ri said that Pyongyang is ready for both dialogue and a standoff, but it will remain "the biggest threat" to Washington for a long time should the U.S. stick to a hostile stance. He even strongly slammed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his possible counterpart when talks resume, and called him "the diehard toxin of the U.S. diplomacy" for hampering talks between the two countries.
The criticism came a day after a spokesperson for the North's foreign ministry said that the North has no interest in dialogue as long as South Korea and the United States keep up military threats against it, citing Seoul's move to introduce high-tech fighter jets from Washington.
Experts see the North's recent sharp-worded statements as apparently signaling that Pyongyang might not be in a rush to resume bilateral nuclear talks. Some see it as intended to strengthening its negotiation leverage before coming out for talks.
Denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since the no-deal breakdown of their February summit in Hanoi. They failed to find common ground for Pyongyang's denuclearization steps and Washington's sanctions relief.
Trump and Kim agreed to restart working-level talks within several weeks when they met at the inter-Korean border on June 30. The talks were expected to be held in mid-July, but they have not taken place amid tensions caused by the North's recent missile and projectile launches.
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