SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Friday it had test-fired a newly developed anti-aircraft missile in the fourth round of weapons firings in recent weeks, even as it pushes to reopen dormant communication channels with South Korea in a small reconciliation step.
In September, 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 Korea leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to restore communication hotlines with South Korea in coming days to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The Korean Central News Agency said the anti-aircraft missile test is “of very practical significance in studying and developing various prospective anti-aircraft missile system.”
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 United States typically publicly confirm North Korean missile launches soon after they occur, but did not do so for Thursday’s test, indicating it may not have been a major weapons test. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities monitored related moves by North Korea but didn’t elaborate.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Thursday's 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 400 kilometers (250 miles) and is reportedly cable of intercepting radar-evading stealth jets.
While Kim said he intended to reopen inter-Korean hotlines during his speech at parliament, he also shrugged off U.S. 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 discuss and resolve many pending issues. The cross-border phone and fax lines have been largely dormant for more than a year. As of Friday morning, North Korea remains unresponsive to South Korea's attempt to exchange messages over the channels, according to Seoul's Unifications Ministry.
During the Armed Forces Day ceremony on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would sternly repel any attempt to threaten his people’s lives and would strive to achieve lasting peace. But he didn’t mention North Korea’s recent tests in a possible effort to maintain a mood for talks between the Koreas.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Thursday that Washington “certainly supports” inter-Korean dialogue in principle. But he said the U.S. was concerned about North Korea’s recent launches that he said were repeated violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions and created “greater prospects for instability and insecurity.”
The U.N. council resolutions ban any ballistic activity by North Korea.
Some experts say North Korea wants South Korea to persuade the United States to ease punishing economic international sanctions on it. Other say North Korea aims to get an international recognition as a nuclear power.
Earlier in September, North Korea also test-fired a new hypersonic missile, a newly developed cruise missile and a ballistic missile launched from a train. South Korea’s military assessed the hypersonic missile to be at an early stage of development, but experts say the two previous missile tests displayed the North’s ability to attack targets in South Korea and Japan, both key U.S. allies that host U.S. troops.
The North’s recent tests were in line with Kim Jong Un’s earlier vows to introduce sophisticated weapons and enlarge his nuclear arsenal to defend itself against U.S. hostility — a reference to U.S.-led sanctions on the North and regular military drills between Washington and Seoul that North Korea believes are an invasion rehearsal.
Nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington has been largely deadlocked since early 2019.
North Korea hasn’t tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland for about four years, an indication it wants to keep alive its chances for diplomacy.