North Korea’s Kim calls for expanded missile launcher production

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for expanded production of missile launchers in preparation for a “military showdown” with South Korea and the United States, state media said Friday.

His comments, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, came shortly after Washington said Russia had used ballistic missiles and launchers provided by North Korea in a recent flurry of attacks on cities in Ukraine.

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State media images showed Kim, his young daughter Ju Ae in tow, touring a factory that produces transport erector launchers (TELs) used for the country’s banned intercontinental ballistic missiles, before hailing a “dynamic drive for increased production” of the weapons.

Kim told workers increasing TEL production capacity was important “given the prevailing grave situation that requires the country to be more firmly prepared for a military showdown with the enemy,” KCNA said.

“He specified the immediate plan for production of varieties of TELs, long-term production plan and task of production capacity expansion” to bolster the country’s nuclear war deterrent, it added.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday that Pyongyang-supplied missiles, which have ranges of around 900 kilometers (550 miles), were fired by Russia in two attacks on Ukraine within the past week.

“Our information indicates that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently provided Russia with ballistic missile launchers and several ballistic missiles,” Kirby told reporters in a briefing at the White House, using the North’s official name.

“This is a significant and concerning escalation of the DPRK’s support for Russia,” he added, calling for the US Congress to pass a package of vital military aid for Ukraine.

Kim met with Moscow’s President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s far east in September, with both Washington and Seoul subsequently accusing Pyongyang of shipping weapons for use in Ukraine, in exchange for satellite know-how.

Images released by KCNA on Friday show Kim and Ju Ae, surrounded by top officials, inspecting giant TELs, topped by what appear to be long-range missiles.

Another photograph shows Kim instructing officials behind the wheel of one of the launch vehicles, as Ju Ae watches from the side.

Kim lauded the factory officials, saying they had already been “over-fulfilling the TEL production goal” set by the party in 2023.

He also praised officials for “vigorously striving to attain a new production goal in the new year,” KCNA said, without giving details of any target figures.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in decades, after Kim enshrined the country’s status as a nuclear power into the constitution while test-firing several advanced ICBMs.

Both North Korea and Russia are under a raft of global sanctions, for their banned weapons programs and the war in Ukraine respectively.

Kirby said the US would raise Russia’s sanctions-busting use of North Korean missiles and launchers in Ukraine at the UN Security Council.

At Pyongyang’s key year-end policy meetings, Kim warned of a nuclear attack on the South and called for a build-up of the country’s military arsenal ahead of armed conflict that he warned could “break out any time”.

In 2023, the North successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite, after receiving what Seoul claimed was help from Russia in exchange for arms transfers for Ukraine.

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