Obama says North Korea is deepening its international isolation with missile tests

A test-fire of a submarine-launched ballistic missile released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on Aug 25, 2016.
A test-fire of a submarine-launched ballistic missile released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on Aug 25, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

VIENTIANE (AFP) - United States President Barack Obama warned North Korea on Tuesday (Sept 6) that it was deepening its international isolation following recent missile tests that were hailed by the reclusive state's leader as "perfect".

Mr Obama also held talks with South Korean counterpart Park Geun Hye on the sidelines of a regional summit in Laos about Pyongyang's firing of three mid-ranged missiles on Monday. The tests were a new show of force as world leaders met for a Group of 20 gathering in China before Mr Obama and many other Asian leaders travelled to Laos.

"North Korea needs to know that provocations will only invite more pressure and further deepen its isolation," Mr Obama told reporters after meeting Ms Park in Vientiane.

Ms Park described the launches as a "reckless provocation (that) will lead North Korea down the path of self-destruction".

Pyongyang has conducted a fourth nuclear test and a series of missile tests this year in defiance of UN sanctions, prompting South Korea to announce plans to deploy a US anti-missile system to counter such threats.

In spite of tough global sanctions, Pyongyang continues to ignore the international community's calls for a halt to its weapons programme.

Pressure on Pyongyang is expected to intensify later on Tuesday when the 15-member UN Security Council convenes in New York to consider a response to the latest in a series of tests.

But despite the global chorus of disapproval, Pyongyang is unrepentant.

The North's KCNA news agency on Tuesday said leader Kim Jong Un personally oversaw Monday's missile firing which he "appreciated as perfect".

"He stressed the need to continue making miraculous achievements in bolstering up the nuclear force one after another in this historic year," the report added.

The North's top newspaper Rodong Sinmun carried nine photos of the test, including one of a beaming Kim standing in front of a map surrounded by smiling officials.

South Korea's defence ministry said the tests were of Rodong missiles with a range of 1,000km. It said they had been fired over the Sea of Japan (East Sea) without warning.

The Rodong is a scaled-up Scud variant with a maximum range of around 1,300kms, bringing most of Japan within range.

Ms Melissa Hanham, an expert on North Korea's weapons programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said it was difficult to determine so far if there had been any technical progress.

"The most obvious difference from the last test is the change in warhead," Ms Hanham said.

Last month, North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile from the northeastern port of Sinpo.

That flew 500km towards Japan, far exceeding the range of the country's previous sub-launched missiles.

Mr Kim described the August test as the "greatest success" and said it put the US mainland within striking range.

The launch was widely condemned by the US and other major powers, but analysts saw it as a clear step forward for North Korea's nuclear strike ambitions.

A proven submarine-launched ballistic missile system would allow deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a "second-strike" capability in the event of an attack on the North's military bases.

After his meeting with Ms Park, Mr Obama said if North Korea committed to denuclearisation then the "opportunities for us to dialogue with them are there".

But he added that Pyongyang's current behaviour made that impossible.