Kim Jong Un holds off on missile plans

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Analysts believe N. Korea is using Guam threat to bargain for cut-backs on US-South Korean military drills

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said yesterday he would hold off on a planned missile strike near Guam, but warned the highly provocative move would go ahead in the event of further "reckless actions" by Washington.

Some analysts suggested Mr Kim's comments opened a possible path to de-escalating a growing crisis fuelled by bellicose words between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leadership.

Mr Kim's remarks would appear to bring into play the large-scale military exercises held every year by South Korea and the US that are expected to kick off later this month.

The North has always denounced the drills as provocative rehearsals for invasion and has in the past offered a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing in exchange for their cancellation - a trade-off promoted by Pyongyang's main ally China, but repeatedly rejected by Washington and Seoul.

Some analysts said Mr Kim was seeking a similar quid-pro-quo this time around, using the Guam missile threat as leverage.

"This is a direct invitation to talk reciprocal constraints on exercises and missile launches," said senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress Adam Mount.

Yesterday, North Korean state media offered in photos a glimpse into its plans to fire missiles into the sea near Guam, as Mr Kim was briefed on the plans drawn up by the army.

Mr Kim was seen holding a baton and pointing at a map reading "Strategic Force's Firing Strike Plan", which showed a flight path for the missiles appearing to start from North Korea's east coast, then flying over Japan and ending near Guam, as Pyongyang announced last week.

The launch location seen in the map appeared to be in the vicinity of Sinpo, the coastal city that hosts North Korea's submarine base, said military expert Kim Dong Yub from Kyungnam University's Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

He said the location near Sinpo fits with what North Korea outlined last week - that four intermediate-range missiles will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures of Japan and hit the waters 40km from Guam in just over 17 minutes.

"Every North Korean must have seen this photo on TV and newspapers. North Korea is showing its confidence, telling the US: If they want to stop it, they can try," he said.

"It also signals that the North has been studying this for a long time and getting ready to act if it decided to."

At the Guam briefing on Monday, Mr Kim was flanked by other army generals, including veteran rocket scientist Kim Jong Sik, one of the masterminds behind North Korea's missile programme.

Mr Kim, who praised the army for drawing up a "close and careful plan", said he will "watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees" before deciding on whether to go ahead with missile launches towards Guam.

He warned, though, that the highly provocative move would go ahead in the event of further "reckless actions" by the US. 

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