North Korean leader inspects new submarine as talks with US stall

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has inspected a new submarine a week after the nuclear-armed state warned looming military drills in South Korea could derail nuclear talks with Washington.

Analysts said that based on the apparent size of the new submarine it appears designed to eventually carry missiles [KCNA via Reuters]

The submarine will be deployed to the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, the North’s official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday, without disclosing its specifications or the location of the inspection.

“The Supreme Leader learned in detail about its operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems,” KCNA said.

North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.

Analysts said that based on the apparent size of the new submarine it appears designed to eventually carry missiles.

“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine – much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the US-based Federation of American Scientists.

“What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

The annual military drills between South Korean and US military have angered the North [KCNA via Reuters]

“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in US policy with the utmost seriousness.”

Kim-Trump meetings

The inspection comes a week after Pyongyang warned next month’s US-South Korea military drills “will affect” proposed working-level nuclear talks with Washington that Kim and the United States’s president agreed to pursue during an impromptu meeting in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas on June 30.

But no meetings between the two sides have taken place since then.

There are close to 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea and their annual drills with tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North – with Pyongyang slamming the manoeuvres as rehearsals for invasion.

The North in the past week condemned the upcoming military exercise as “blatant pressure” on Pyongyang and a “violation of the spirit” of the joint statement President Donald Trump and Kim signed at their historic meet in Singapore last year.

The criticisms came despite the drills being scaled down to facilitate dialogue with the North.

Trump meanwhile said on Monday there was “very positive correspondence with North Korea”.

“Again there’s no nuclear testing, there’s no missile testing, there’s no nothing,” he said.

Washington has previously insisted on North Korea’s complete denuclearisation as a condition for lifting punishing US sanctions.

Failure to reach an agreement over sanctions relief and what the North was willing to give in return led to the collapse of the leaders’ second summit, which was held in February in Hanoi.

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