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(News Focus) N. Korea wants to show its ability to strike Guam: experts

2017/08/29 14:40

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SEOUL, Aug. 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's firing of a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday is seen as being aimed at showing that it's not bluffing with its recent threat to strike waters near Guam, experts here said.

The North launched what's believed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) from Pyongyang early in the morning. It flew more than 2,700 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 550 km.

Guam, approximately 3,000 km southeast of North Korea, hosts key U.S. naval and air force bases to be used for a bridgehead for dispatching U.S. troops to Korea in the event of an emergency situation.

It marks the first time that the North shot a ballistic missile from its capital, said an official at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

North Korean ballistic missiles had flown over Japan two times, in 1998 and in 2009.

Earlier this month, the North threatened to fire four Hwasong-12 IRBMs toward Guam amid a trade of bellicose rhetoric with U.S. President Donald Trump.

"I think that the North probably made a provocative act (that displayed its missile capability) as it cannot fire missiles toward Guam, which means an attack on the U.S.," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.

The move came amid an apparent conciliatory gesture from the United States. Senior U.S. officials had said they are viewing Pyongyang's restraint from provocations as a signal for possible dialogue.

Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. appeared to be abating as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held off on his Guam threat.

Observers had described the coming weeks or months as a "golden time" in efforts to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table as the South Korea-U.S. military exercise, code-named Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is scheduled to end this week. There will be no regular joint military training of the allies until spring next year.

Tensions, however, spiked again over the weekend.

On Saturday, the repressive regime fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea, resuming its provocation after a one-month lull. Despite the test, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he is willing to have talks with the North.

South Korea's presidential office also said that North Korea's "low-intensity" provocation may indicate its intent not to aggravate the situation, voicing hope for future dialogue with Pyongyang.

Analysts said that Pyongyang seems to be defiant toward Washington's talk of dialogue, which it regards as lacking sincerity without concrete actions.

The United Nations Security Council recently slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang over the North's two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in July.

The U.S. has also imposed new sanctions on 10 entities and six individuals, including those based in China and Russia, for their alleged links to North Korea's nuclear and missile program.

Last week, China announced measures to ban North Korea from doing new business in China in line with the U.N. sanctions.

The U.N. panel convened another emergency session on North Korea shortly after its latest provocation. Many expect it to adopt a statement denouncing the North's move rather than pushing for another sanctions resolution.

President Moon Jae-in also called for a stern response, ordering the military to display its "overwhelming" capability against North Korea's provocation.

Over the phone, Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed that now is not the right time for dialogue with Pyongyang, calling for increased pressure, according to Japan's Kyodo News.

"There are no signs of meaningful dialogue between the U.S. and the North although Tillerson is talking about dialogue," said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University. "Against this backdrop, the North appears to be trying to show that its missile strike threat is not empty talk."

   North Korea earlier said that it will never put its nuclear and missile programs on the negotiation table.

"Kim Jong-un has a goal to complete the development of its nuclear and missile program," Koh pointed out. "There seems to be no change in its stance that it will come to dialogue after securing a strategic status favorable to it."

   sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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