TOKYO — If Kim Jong Un wants to meet President Trump, he’s going the wrong way about it, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Sunday after North Korea’s latest missile launch.
The missile appeared to have a significantly longer range than others North Korea has tested recently, analysts said, suggesting Kim’s regime had tested a new kind of rocket, perhaps a precursor to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.
This latest provocation coincided with the opening of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, concerning Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ambitious development project. This could encourage China to use its leverage over North Korea to stop the missile and nuclear tests, as Trump has been urging Xi to do.
But at the same time as talking tough, Trump has also called Kim a “smart cookie” and said he would be “honored” to meet the North Korean leader. A North Korean diplomat in charge of U.S. affairs said over the weekend that Pyongyang would hold talks with Washington “under the right conditions.”
But Haley, speaking Sunday after the latest missile launch, said talks could not take place while such provocations continued.
“Having a missile test is not the way to sit down with the president because he’s absolutely not going to do it,” Haley told ABC News’s “This Week.” “Until he meets our conditions, we’re not sitting down with him.”
Over the last couple of years, North Korea has said it would hold talks with the United States – as long as denuclearization was not on the agenda, a deal-breaker for Washington. Meanwhile, Washington has said it will not hold talks without some kind of nuclear freeze or suspension from North Korea.
That has led to a stalemate where the Obama administration and now the Trump administration have refused to talk, and the regime in Pyongyang has pressed ahead with its weapons programs.
North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, sending it from a launch site near its border with China 435 miles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The U.S. military said that the flight was “not consistent” with an intercontinental ballistic missile, but it did not identify what type of missile it was.
After successful missile tests, North Korea releases photos through its state media – usually showing a beaming Kim overseeing the launch – and analysts are now waiting for photos from Sunday’s launch to determine exactly what was fired.
But initial data suggested it could be the “mystery missile” that North Korea displayed during a huge parade in Pyongyang last month.
The black-and-white projectiles looked like the KN-08, an intercontinental ballistic missile, but were slightly smaller. South Korean media, citing military officials, had previously reported that North Korea was working on shorter versions of its known ICBM models.
John Schilling, an aerospace engineer who specializes in rockets, said that the missile launched Sunday was “almost certainly the ‘mini KN-08.’”
David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, reached the same conclusion after studying the flight path of the missile.
It flew 435 miles but took 30 minutes to do so — meaning that it would have reached an apogee of about 1,240 miles, Wright said.
If it had been launched on a standard trajectory, it would have a technical range of 2,800 miles, he said. This would easily put the American territory of Guam within range.
Schilling said Sunday’s missile could be a “test bed” for an ICBM, being smaller than the KN-08 but using the same engines.
“If so, the ICBM program is more advanced than we had thought,” Schilling said. “It will still need more testing, including a full scale version, so it’s still more than a year out – but maybe not the five years we had hoped for.”
North Korea’s leader has said his regime is in the “final stage” of preparations to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, and while this may be North Korean bluster, with every test his engineers make a little more progress towards his goal.
Wright pointed out that other countries have taken decades to achieve Kim’s aim of developing longer-range missiles. “What we see in the meantime is they are getting longer ranges than before and they are trying to scale up to intercontinental range,” he said.