North Korea on Thursday called for the United States to replace Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as head of its team negotiating for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and announced it had conducted a tactical guided weapons test.
North Korean foreign ministry official Kwon Jong-gun said that in the event that bilateral talks resume, Pyongyang would like Pompeo to be replaced with a "more careful and mature” negotiator, according to state news agency KCNA.
He said talks could become complicated if Pompeo was involved in the discussions, adding that whenever the US Secretary of State "pokes his nose in, talks between the two countries go wrong, without any results."
Kwon also said relations between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were good, and Kim was pleased about that fact.
Pyongyang's request to drop Pompeo came the same day that KCNA also announced that Kim had overseen the testing of a new tactical guided weapon – a short-range weapon designed for battlefield in combat scenarios.
The state media outlet reported that on Wednesday, Kim "supervised and guided" the exercise, which was the first test since the leader’s Hanoi summit with Trump in February ended without a deal on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament.
As is usual for the North Korean regime, the location of the test was not specified, and the report merely said that it was a "new-type of guided tactical weapon" and that "the design indexes of the ... weapon whose advantages are appreciated for the peculiar mode of guiding flight and the load of a powerful warhead were perfectly verified at the test-fire."
Kim said "the completion of the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People's Army," and added that "scientists and workers in the field of the munitions industry performed another great work in increasing the country's defense capabilities," according to KCNA.
Experts believe that the weapon could be a cruise missile, the use of which has not been banned by the United Nations resolutions against North Korea.
The South Korean defense ministry told EFE that military officers in Seoul were assessing the situation.
This is the first time Kim has publicly supervised an arms test since Nov. 2018, when North Korean state media reported that he was present at tests of another tactical weapon (probably an artillery system) for which no further details were provided.
That test appeared to be an attempt to demonstrate the Army's national defense preparations to the domestic public at a time when the dialog with the US was stalling.
The move appears to be a message to both the North Korean public and Washington.
It could be aimed at attracting attention and making Trump – who in Hanoi said he was happy that Pyongyang had not carried out any missile or nuclear tests in a year-and-a-half – relent his position in negotiations.
The failure to reach an agreement at the summit revolved around the number of North Korean nuclear assets to be dismantled against the volume of sanctions that the US would alleviate as a corresponding measure.
Washington wanted the North to dismantle its missiles and chemical and biological weapons (in addition to nuclear weapons) programs before granting concessions, while Pyongyang called for the lifting of much of the sanctions in exchange for dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear facility, which the US considered insufficient.
Since then, Washington and Pyongyang have held firm on their respective positions, although each have expressed their willingness to keep the dialog open to work out their differences gradually, including a possibility of organizing a new summit.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin confirmed on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet with Kim in Moscow in the upcoming weeks, without specifying the exact date.