SEOUL — North Korea sought to increase pressure on the United States ahead of proposed nuclear talks, declaring Tuesday that it had built a new submarine and had instructed its commanders to upgrade their military readiness.
The announcement in state media demonstrated the North’s continued expansion of its military capabilities and its frustration at the lack of progress in nuclear diplomacy with Washington, defense analysts said.
Security experts and South Korean officials have long suspected North Korea, which already has a sizable submarine fleet, has been working to develop a new submarine that can launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
Dictator Kim Jong Un inspected the new vessel, which was built under “his special attention” and will soon operate along the country’s east coast, Pyongyang’s state media said. It didn’t mention when or where the inspection took place but said Kim “expressed great satisfaction” that the submarine was designed to be capable of implementing Pyongyang’s strategic goals.
Those comments showed the submarine “appeared designed to carry nuclear-capable ballistic missiles for strategic deterrence,” said Ankit Panda, adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.
Pyongyang hinted last week that it might resume nuclear and long-range missile tests if the United States and South Korea go ahead with planned joint military exercises in August. It accused President Trump of reneging on a commitment to suspend the exercises.
“While pursuing nuclear talks on the one hand, Kim is demonstrating that North Korea will continue to build up its military capabilities,” said Lee Ho-ryung, researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “North Korea has been developing a submarine over the past few years, but the timing of the announcement appears to be a diplomatic decision, sending a message to Washington.”
Trump and Kim agreed at a June 30 meeting to resume working-level talks on the nuclear issue. The president said Monday there has recently been a “very positive correspondence” with North Korea, but no date had been set for a working-level meeting.
A summit between the two leaders in Hanoi in February failed to produce an agreement on denuclearization. North Korea accused the United States of demanding too much while failing to offer sufficient sanctions relief in return for disarmament steps.
Tuesday’s developments came as U.S. national security adviser John Bolton traveled to Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials, amid signs that U.S.-North Korea nuclear diplomacy has reached another impasse and as U.S. allies South Korea and Japan remain embroiled in a spat that has fueled nationalist tensions.
Seoul defense officials, meanwhile, said a Russian military aircraft violated South Korean airspace twice on Tuesday, prompting South Korean forces to scramble jets and fire warning shots.
While Chinese aircraft sometimes violate South Korean airspace — and did so again on Tuesday, according to Seoul officials — the Defense Ministry said it was an unprecedented step for Russian forces. South Korea said it planned to lodge protests with Russia and China.
The incident involving the Russian aircraft took place east of the Korean Peninsula near a group of islets controlled by South Korea, which refers to them as Dokdo. The islets are also claimed by Japan, which refers to them as Takeshima.
The two U.S. allies have been embroiled in a dispute stemming from historical grievances that is spilling over into economic retaliation.