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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
UPDATE AT 1000 KST: This article has been amended to include North Korean state media’s English translation, and to include a response to the test from the U.S. State Department.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently inspected the testing of a new “ultramodern tactical weapon,” a report released by North Korean state media said on Friday.
While ambiguous about the nature of the device being tested, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the weapon has been under development for a long time and that the test took place at the “test ground of the Academy of Defence Science.”
“The state-of-the art weapon that has been long developed under the leadership of our party’s dynamic leadership has a meaning of completely safeguarding our territory and significantly improving the combat power of our people’s army,” the report by the KCNA said.
“The testing of the ultramodern tactical weapon has been carried out successfully, meeting all superior and powerful designing indicators,” it continued.
“With our party at the center, the Dear Leader oversaw the success of the ultramodern tactical weapon test along with the workers of the national defense science sector such as the scientists, engineers, and munitions labor class, and highly commended their contributions.”
The news represents the first visit by the North Korean leader to the Academy of Defence Science since August last year.
KCNA reported he was accompanied at the test by, among others, Deputy Director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Military Industry Department Kim Jong Sik and First Vice Department Director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee Ri Pyong Chol.
The two were identified by the U.S. last year as part of a group of “leaders of North Korea’s ballistic missile programs.”
He was also notably joined by Pak Jong Chon, head of the Korean People’s Army (KPA)’s Artillery Command and Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff.
“With today’s success, the Dear Leader is rapidly developing our national defense capabilities under the justification of the Party’s Sci-Tech-centered National Defense Policy, which has made yet another accomplishment,” the report added – the first reference to that policy since January.
“With great satisfaction, [Kim Jong Un] said an epoch-making shift had been made in strengthening our battle capability.”
Recent North Korean weapons testing has typically been much more public and has involved underground nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches.
No launches have yet been reported by South Korea’s military, typically the first to do so in such an event, or U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).
No seismic activity, indicative of an underground nuclear test, has been reported either.
In its report, the KCNA said the weapon tested was one that had been “personally set in motion and with particular interest” by the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
“Now this weapons system is finally complete,” it said. “Like a child born after the death of their father, today, [Kim Jong Un], seeing this success, could not but think of our General and could not suppress his ardent love for him.”
In response to the reported test, a U.S. State Department spokesperson reiterated that talks with North Korea on its nuclear program were ongoing and that the U.S. believes Kim Jong Un will honor commitments made in Singapore in June.
“At the Singapore Summit, President Trump and Chairman Kim made a number of commitments regarding final, fully verified denuclearization and creating a brighter future for North Korea,” the spokesperson told NK News. “We are talking with the North Koreans about implementing all of those commitments.”
“The President has made clear that if Kim Jong Un denuclearizes, there is a bright future for North Korea,” they continued. “We remain confident that the promises made by President Trump and Chairman Kim will be fulfilled.”
North Korea last tested an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) almost 12 months ago, on November 28.
Following that successful test, Kim said the country had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”
The country has since refrained from nuclear and missile testing, with a high-level ruling party meeting in April seeing Kim announce that was no longer any need for them to take place.
North Korea, too, has embarked on a diplomatic campaign that has so far resulted in relative calm on the peninsula and multiple summits with foreign leaders, including with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore.
Since that summit, however, little concrete progress has been made towards improving U.S.-DPRK ties or realizing the denuclearization of North Korea.
The two sides have increasingly been at odds over sequencing, with the U.S. insisting that sanctions will remain until the North denuclearizes while the DPRK insisting that sanctions are an impediment to trust and must be removed prior to any further moves on their part.
Earlier this month, state media published an article suggesting that North Korea would resume overt nuclear development should the U.S. not change its position.
Responding to Washington’s ongoing public aversion to North Korea sanctions relief, a director of the foreign ministry-linked Institute for American Studies warned that Pyongyang may reconsider Kim Jong Un’s April directive to focus solely on economic development.
“If the U.S. keeps behaving arrogant without showing any change in its stand…the word “pyongjin” (simultaneously conducting economic construction and building up nuclear forces) may appear again and the change of the line could be seriously reconsidered,” director Kwon Jong Gun said in the KCNA-distributed statement.
North Korea later called off a planned meeting in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior DPRK official Kim Yong Chol.
Friday’s news also comes amid the ongoing U.S. Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) joint military drill, which began on November 5, and South Korea’s Taeguk and Hoguk exercises.
North Korean media earlier in the week denounced the KMEP drills, warning their taking place “runs counter” to September’s inter-Korean military agreement and accusing the U.S. and South Korea of “threatening peace.”
In October, the Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) announced its plan to conduct the KMEP 24 times next year.
Additional reporting by Colin Zwirko and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA