N. Korea tests anti-aircraft missile: state media

Seoul (AFP) –


North Korea has successfully fired a new anti-aircraft missile, state media said Friday, the latest in a flurry of weapons tests by the nuclear-armed nation.

The anti-aircraft missile had a "remarkable combat performance" and included twin rudder controls and other new technologies, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

A picture in the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed the missile ascending at an angle into the sky from a launch vehicle on Thursday.

It is the latest in a series of tension-raising steps by Pyongyang, which has hitherto been biding its time since the change in US administrations in January.

In September, it launched what it said was a long-range cruise missile, and earlier this week tested what it described as a hypersonic gliding vehicle, which South Korea's military said appeared to be in an early stage of development.

KCNA also reported this week that the North's leader, Kim Jong Un, decried Washington's repeated offers of talks without preconditions as a "petty trick" in a speech to the country's rubber stamp parliament, accusing the new administration of continuing the "hostile policy" of its predecessors.

South Korea's defence ministry told AFP it was unable to immediately confirm the latest launch.

Anti-aircraft missiles are much smaller than the ballistic missiles the North is banned from developing under United Nations Security Council resolutions, and harder to detect from afar.

Pyongyang is under multiple international sanctions over its weapons programmes, which have made rapid progress under Kim, including missiles capable of reaching the whole of the US mainland and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date.

The latest tests have sparked international condemnation, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying they created "greater prospects for instability and insecurity".

The United States, Britain and France have called a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea set to take place Friday.

It was originally due on Thursday but was delayed by Russia and China, who asked for more time to study the situation, a diplomatic source said.

Beijing is Pyongyang's key ally and in normal times its biggest provider of trade and aid, although the North has since early last year been under a self-imposed blockade after it shut its borders to defend itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

The North has a long history of using weapons tests to ramp up tensions, in a carefully calibrated process to try to forward its objectives.

With its latest actions, Pyongyang was looking to "highlight their presence on the world stage and their military capabilities", defector-turned-researcher Ahn Chan-il told AFP.

The South's President Moon Jae-in has recently reiterated his calls for a formal declaration that the Korean War is over -- hostilities ceased in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Ahn said: "They are buying time this way and trying to leverage as much as they can from Seoul's proposal to declare the official end of the Korean War, as well as Washington's offer to talk without any preconditions."

The coronavirus blockade and other factors have made the North's domestic situation "quite serious", he added, "and it is believed that many North Koreans are agitated. It looks like missile launches are also intended to soothe them."

- Communication lines -

Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been effectively at a standstill since the collapse of a 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and then-president Donald Trump over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.

Washington and Seoul are security allies, and the United States stations around 28,500 troops in the South to protect it from its neighbour.

In August, the two held joint military drills that always infuriate Pyongyang.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly declared its willingness to meet North Korean representatives anywhere, at any time, without preconditions, while saying it will seek denuclearisation.

But in his speech to the Supreme People's Assembly legislature, Kim condemned the offers as "no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts", according to KCNA.

The new administration was pursuing the same "military threats" and "hostile policy" as the past, but in "more cunning ways and methods", he said.

Nonetheless, he expressed a willingness to restore North-South communication lines in early October.

North Korea has not shown any willingness to give up its arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against an invasion by the United States.