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(LEAD) N.K. leader inspects new submarine to be deployed in East Sea

11:42 July 23, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; ADDS more photos, info throughout)

SEOUL, July 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has inspected a newly constructed submarine, calling for the development of naval armed forces to boost the country's military capabilities, Pyongyang's state media reported Tuesday.

The inspection came after Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to resume working-level talks on Pyongyang's denuclearization at a surprise meeting at the inter-Korean border last month.

Accompanied by senior officials from the ruling party and the field of national defense science, Kim looked into the new submarine's capabilities and expressed "great satisfaction," according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The submarine, "built under the meticulous guidance and special attention" of Kim, "will perform its duty in the operational waters of the East Sea of Korea and its operational deployment is near at hand," it said.

The KCNA did not disclose when or where the inspection took place, nor any other details on the submarine, though it published a few photos.

In this photo, released by the Korean Central News Agency on July 23, 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) inspects a new submarine. The agency didn't provide the date or location. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

"Explaining the Party's strategic plan for the use of submarine and underwater operation, he elaborated on the immediate duty and strategic tasks facing the field of national defense science and submarine industry to carry out the plan," the report said.

Kim said "the operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense" for North Korea which is "bounded on its east and west by sea," and he "stressed the need to steadily and reliably increase the national defense capability by directing big efforts to the development of the naval weapons and equipment such as submarine."

The inspection appears aimed at putting pressure on Washington ahead of possible talks between the two sides.

Kim and Trump met at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30 and agreed to resume their working-level nuclear talks after a monthslong lull following the no-deal breakdown of their February summit.

The talks had been expected to start in mid-July but Pyongyang has reportedly not responded to Washington's offer for dialogue.

Pyongyang recently slammed the U.S. for planning to hold joint military drills with South Korea next month, warning that it could affect the agreed-upon talks.

This photo, released by the Korean Central News Agency on July 23, 2019, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaking during an inspection of a newly built submarine. As is customary, the agency didn't provide the date or location. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Experts say the submarine that Kim inspected might be capable of carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

"It doesn't seem like a nuclear-powered submarine, but a Sinpo-class," Professor Kim Dong-yub of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies said. "It might be one with two or three launching tubes to be used for SLBMs."

This analysis appears to be in line with a report compiled last month by 38 North, a website providing information about North Korea, which raised the possibility of the North building a ballistic missile submarine at the Sinpo shipyard on its east coast.

The visit could also be seen as an attempt to soothe the military and the public amid possible security concerns within the country over the denuclearization negotiations.

"North Korea seems to have not elaborated on the deployment of the submarine in an apparent effort not to break its promise to the U.S., while soothing the military and boosting internal unity," the professor said.

In this photo, released by the Korean Central News Agency on July 23, 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (2nd from R) inspects a newly built submarine. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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