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'Very standard:' Trump downplays North Korea missile tests

NBC News logo NBC News 5/12/2019 Linda Givetash and Reuters
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House on May 8, 2019. © Saul Loeb U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House on May 8, 2019.

President Donald Trump has downplayed a series of recent missile launches by North Korea, saying he doesn't consider the tests a setback amid stalled nuclear talks with Kim Jong Un.

“They’re short-range and I don’t consider that a breach of trust at all," Trump said in an interview with Politico on Friday. "And, you know, at some point I may. But at this point no,” he added. “These were short-range missiles and very standard stuff. Very standard.”

On Thursday, the Pentagon said that North Korea “flight-tested multiple ballistic missiles” in the country's second launch of weapons in less than a week. The missiles flew for more than 186 miles before landing in the ocean.

The president on Thursday said the latest launch involved short-range missiles, adding that "nobody's happy about it."

"They're talking about negotiating, but I don't think they're ready to negotiate," Trump said.

Experts say the latest tests are a tactical move by North Korea to increase pressure for negotiations to resume after Trump and Kim abruptly ended their summit in Hanoi in February. Yet the outcomes of such talks remain uncertain.

"Denuclearization is not going to happen," said Andrei Lankov, professor of Korean studies at Kookmin University in Seoul. "North Koreans are not going to surrender nuclear weapons."

North Korean officials have openly criticized National Security Adviser John Bolton over his remarks suggesting Pyongyang was serious about giving up its nuclear weapons. Officials also said they no longer wanted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to participate in negotiations, asking that he be replaced by someone more mature.

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Trump said last month that a third summit with Kim "would be good" as the two leaders expressed openness to reviving their stalled nuclear diplomacy.

In the interview on Friday he said that he had not lost faith in his relationship with the North Korean leader. “I mean it’s possible that at some point I will, but right now not at all,” he told Politico.

South Korea has also minimized the significance of the missile tests, using the "least menacing-sounding" language in its response, to prevent conflict from breaking out on the peninsula, said Lankov.

In contrast Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami said Friday that the tests were in contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions which bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activity.

Japan, which is within striking distance of North Korean mid-range missiles, has been a strong advocate of tough resolutions to force Pyongyang to abandon its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea has consistently violated resolutions with its nuclear, biological and weapons programs, Tom Plant, director of Proliferation and Nuclear Policy at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told NBC News.

It's unlikely the latest round of missile testing will prompt the U.S. or other countries to call on the security council to introduce more sanctions against North Korea, Plant said, because neither China and Russia would allow it.

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