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North Korea 'tests ultramodern tactical weapon'

KCNA via Reuters | North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a nuclear weapons research facility in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on September 3, 2017.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has overseen the testing of a "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon", Pyongyang's state media reported Friday, in a move that will raise the temperature over denuclearisation talks.

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It marked the first official report of a weapons test by North Korea since it began a delicate diplomatic process with Washington over its nuclear and missile programme.

"Kim Jong Un... visited the test ground of the Academy of Defence Science and supervised a newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon test," said the official Korean Central News Agency.

It said the test was successful but did not specify the type of device involved.

Pyongyang's suspension of testing for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has been key to this year's rapid diplomatic developments and North Korean-US negotiations, and has been repeatedly praised by President Donald Trump.

Trump and Kim met in a historic summit in Singapore in June, where they signed a vaguely worded document on denuclearisation of the peninsula.

Hours after the KCNA report, the US State Department said it was "confident" the process remained on track.

"At the Singapore Summit, President Trump and Chairman Kim made a number of commitments regarding final, fully verified denuclearisation and creating a brighter future for North Korea," a statement said.

"We are talking with the North Koreans about implementing all of those commitments. We remain confident that the promises made by President Trump and Chairman Kim will be fulfilled."

Progress since Singapore has since stalled as Washington and Pyongyang spar over the meaning of the document, and a return to testing would cast grave doubts over the future of the process.

The use of the word "tactical" in the KCNA report suggests that no long-range ballistic rocket or nuclear device was involved, and there were no immediate indications any such test had been detected by the South.

However, one of the senior military officials listed as accompanying Kim was Pak Jong Chon, identified by the specialist website NK Leadership Watch as head of the Korean People's Army Artillery Command.

KCNA released only one photograph to accompany its report, showing uniformed men taking notes as Kim talked. The background gave few clues to what kind of weapon was involved.

In response to the first reports, Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists tweeted: "That pit of dread you felt in your stomach when you read this is your reminder that the DPRK missile test pause is voluntary, partial, and can fail without notice if it isn't explicitly codified."

DPRK is the abbreviation for the country's official name.

Running out

Kim expressed "great satisfaction" and said the test marks a "decisive turn in bolstering the fighting capacity" of the North's military, KCNA said.

The "ultramodern tactical weapon" had been developed over a long period and its "great success serves as another striking demonstration of the validity of the Party policy of prioritising defence science and technology and the rapidly developing defence capability", it added.

The news came almost a year after Pyongyang's last test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and recalled the repeated announcements of 2017, which included by far its most powerful nuclear blast to date and rockets that brought the whole of the US mainland into range.

Soon afterwards Kim declared the development of his nuclear arsenal -- which Pyongyang has long said it needs to defend itself against a possible invasion by the US -- complete.

The Winter Olympics in the South then triggered a rapid diplomatic rapprochement on the peninsula, heralding the Singapore meeting and three summits between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

A second encounter between Kim and Trump is expected in the new year.

But Pyongyang is demanding sanctions imposed against it over its weapons programmes are eased and has condemned US demands for what it calls its "unilateral" disarmament as "gangster-like".

Washington insists the measures should stay in place until the North's "final, fully verified" denuclearisation.

Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul told AFP the test was "a signal to the US sent ahead of the high level talks that its own patience is also wearing thin".

(AFP)

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