North Korea Fires Short-Range Missiles, Its 2nd Test in Less Than a Week

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the North’s second weapons test in less than a week.

The missiles were launched from near Wonsan, a coastal town east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the South Korean military said in a brief statement. They flew 155 miles to the northeast, reaching a height of 18 miles, before splashing into the sea, it said.

South Korean officials declined to offer further details, pending analysis of flight and other data together with their United States allies.

“North Korea’s recent series of missile tests does not help efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we urge the North to stop this type of act,” the South Korean military said.

That was the first time South Korea had formally accused the North of testing a ballistic missile since November 2017, when the North launched the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. United Nations resolutions forbid North Korea to launch ballistic missiles of any kind.

Japan said the North Korean projectiles launched Wednesday had not landed in its territorial waters, indicating that they were short-range weapons.

North Korea’s resumption of weapons testing has come amid stalled efforts to resume talks with the United States on ending its nuclear weapons program.

President Trump met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30, and both leaders agreed to resume staff-level dialogue between their governments. But such talks have yet to take place.

Weeks before Mr. Kim met with Mr. Trump in Singapore in June last year in the first-ever summit meeting between North Korea and the United States, Mr. Kim announced a moratorium on his country’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Mr. Trump has since repeatedly touted the absence of such tests as his biggest diplomatic achievement in dealing with Mr. Kim.

With North Korea’s latest tests involving short-range missiles, Mr. Kim did not abandon his moratorium. But they violated the United Nations Security Council resolutions that bar the country from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies, South Korean officials said.

Mr. Trump downplayed the significance of the North’s recent missile tests last Thursday, calling them “smaller ones” and repeating that he was still getting along “very well” with Mr. Kim.

“My relationship with Kim Jong-un is a very good one, as I’m sure you’ve seen,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “I like him; he likes me. We’ll see what happens.”

The Singapore meeting ended with a vague agreement in which Mr. Trump committed to building new relations and providing security guarantees for North Korea in return for Mr. Kim’s agreement to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

But when the leaders met again in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, they failed to agree on how to implement their earlier deal.

The Hanoi talks collapsed when Mr. Kim demanded that Washington lift all major sanctions against his country in return for the dismantling of its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. Mr. Trump insisted on a more comprehensive breaking up of the North’s nuclear programs, including its nuclear weapons and missiles.

Mr. Kim has since said he would give Washington until the end of the year to return to the negotiating table with “new calculations.”

“This type of saber rattling is not threatening, but rather is intended to get the attention of North Korea’s more powerful neighbors,” Daniel L. Davis, a senior fellow with the Defense Priorities research institute in Washington, said by email about the Wednesday tests. “Kim Jong-un wants to negotiate and signal his ability to take actions the U.S. and others don’t like in an effort to speed up diplomacy.

“There’s an opening to negotiate for freezes and potentially rollbacks in exchange for limited sanctions relief,” Mr. Davis added. “But unless Washington is willing to make such trade-offs and normalize relations, expect Kim to continue developing weapons and testing them.

Trump Almost Always Folds

From trade deals to gun control and immigration to military deployments, the president has a consistent pattern: Talk a big game, then back down.

President Trump’s May 8 announcement that he was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal should not have come as a surprise. He’d spent years railing against the plan—“the worst deal ever,” he dubbed it—and had promised to rip it up. And yet up to the moment when the president made the final call, there was still some suspense about what he would say.

Will Trump Be the Sage One?

Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.

And that person is Donald Trump.

How screwed up is that?

Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?

Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.

Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.

.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”

But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”

“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.

Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?

I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.

In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.

And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.

When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.

The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)

W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.

Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.

But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”

David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”

He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”

If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?

After the Trump-Kim Failure

The president was right to walk rather than accept a bad deal, but look out ahead.

President Trump was right to walk away from his summit with Kim Jong-un rather than accept a bad nuclear agreement, but the outcome underscores that he was bamboozled last year at his first summit with Kim. Whatever genius Trump sees in the mirror, “the art of the deal” is not his thing.

At this meeting, Kim apparently sought a full end to sanctions on North Korea in exchange for closing only some nuclear sites. That was not a good deal, and Trump was right to walk rather than accept it.

“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,” Trump said, adding: “Sometimes you have to walk.”

President Reagan famously marched out of a 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, rather than accept an arms control agreement with Russia that he regarded as flawed. A year later the Russians returned with better terms and a deal was made — and we can all hope that something similar will happen this time.

Still, there are significant risks ahead. The most important is that North Korea may return to testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, for that would mark a huge escalation of tensions and renewed concerns about brinkmanship and war.

Unfortunately, North Korea is an otherwise unimportant country that gets attention only when it behaves provocatively. So its leaders have learned that their best leverage is to fire missiles, detonate warheads, or start up nuclear complexes.

While Trump was right to walk in this case, he also seems to have played his hand poorly in the run-up to the summit. In particular, he signaled that he eagerly wanted a deal and that “fantastic success” was likely, all of which probably led Kim to raise demands in the belief that Trump would fold.

With normal presidents, summit deals are largely agreed upon ahead of time. As one veteran diplomat put it, presidents pull rabbits out of hats, after diplomats have worked diligently ahead of time to stuff the rabbits into the hats. But Trump has never had much patience for that meticulous diplomatic process, instead placing excessive faith in breakthroughs arising from personal relationships — and his faith was clearly misplaced this time.

The North Korean side had refused to hash out the summit outcome in advance with the highly regarded U.S. special envoy, Stephen Biegun, presumably because Kim thought that he could outfox Trump in person in Hanoi the way he had in Singapore nine months ago.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

It is also distasteful to see Trump praising Kim and referring to him as “my friend” and a “great leader,” and, last year, asserting that Kim had sent him “beautiful letters” and that “we fell in love.” It’s perfectly appropriate to engage with ruthless dictators, but fawning over them is a betrayal of our values.

Former North Korean Diplomat Warns of Deception at Hanoi Summit

Trump should push Kim to rejoin nuclear nonproliferation treaty, ex-official says

The highest-ranking North Korean official to defect in recent years said the U.S. should press Pyongyang to rejoin the nuclear nonproliferation treaty as a step toward denuclearization and warned that the North would try to deceive Washington by offering hollow concessions when the two sides meet next week.

Thae Yong Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat until 2016, said that pledging to rejoin the treaty would help commit Pyongyang to disarmament, as the agreement obliges signatories to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons and mandates inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. North Korea, which withdrew from the treaty in 2003, isn’t recognized as a nuclear state by the international community, though it has tested six nuclear weapons.

.. Mr. Thae said that North Korea would likely offer to shut its Yongbyon complex—used to enrich material needed to build nuclear weapons—and allow international inspectors to verify its closure in return for partial sanctions relief. But agreeing to this would be a mistake, he warned.

There are 390 nuclear facilities [inside the Yongbyon complex]. Even if there is an agreement, the act of inspecting, dismantling, then verifying the facilities’ closure won’t be completed within President Trump’s term,” he told a news conference.

In the meantime, North Korea could keep its arsenal while gaining an immediate reprieve from sanctions. The North Koreans know this, and that’s why they’re dangling Yongbyon, he said.

Mr. Thae was North Korea’s deputy ambassador to London when he defected with his family to South Korea. He worked with the top leadership in Pyongyang, including the foreign minister, and was once filmed accompanying Mr. Kim’s older brother, Kim Jong Chol, to an Eric Clapton concert. He published a memoir last year detailing North Korea’s negotiating strategies.

.. Mr. Thae likened the Kim regime to an unscrupulous used-car salesperson, saying it would try to deceive U.S. negotiators by offering to give up things it didn’t really need, such as some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“They’re going to repaint their broken-down car, make it look new, and then sell it,” he said.

.. A former North Korean official who defected to the South in the 1990s said that the Yongbyon nuclear complex suffered frequent radiation leaks and that workers couldn’t stay there beyond six months.