A new satellite image obtained by CNN shows the smoke trail of a Friday rocket launch by North Korea that is likely a short-range missile, according to the group that analyzed the picture.
“The location of the launch, the thick, smoky appearance of the exhaust and the fact that there is only one rocket trail all suggest this was the short-range ballistic missile that North Korea showed in its propaganda,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute.
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey provided CNN with two images of the smoke trail.
A US official tells CNN that an early analysis says the launches “appear to have been both MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) and what is being looked at as a possible short range ballistic missile.”
The missile test, North Korea’s first since 2017, serves as a clear warning of leader Kim Jong Un’s frustration at the state of talks with the US, which have been deadlocked since President Donald Trump walked out of their Vietnam summit early in February. The launch follows a warm meeting between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin less than two weeks ago and likely signals more tests to come, Lewis said.
Lewis said the North Koreans began firing a barrage of short-range projectiles beginning at approximately 9:06 a.m. on Saturday (8:06 p.m., ET Friday). Sometime around or after 10 a.m., Pyongyang fired another projectile. The image of that launch and the smoky plume it trailed in its wake was caught by Planet Labs, which works with the Middlebury Institute.
“This is a one in a million shot,” Lewis told CNN. The missile “was fired right about this time” and the photo would have been taken “within a few seconds, maybe a few minutes.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking on ABC News “This Week,” confirmed that the projectile was “relatively short range” and “landed in the water east of North Korea and didn’t present a threat to the United States or to South Korea or Japan.”
The US and North Korea have hit an impasse as Pyongyang is demanding sanctions relief before it begins to denuclearize, while the US insists that Pyongyang relinquish its nuclear weapons before any economic pressure is eased.
Pompeo struck a positive note on ABC, saying, “We still believe there’s an opportunity” to achieve “verified denuclearization” and that the US side hopes “we can get back to the table and find the path forward.” The top US diplomat added that the US is still speaking with representatives of the regime since the failed Hanoi summit.
Pompeo and other senior security officials met to discuss the launch on Saturday. The US special representative to North Korea, former Ford auto executive Stephen Biegun, travels to Japan on May 5 for meetings.
Kim had pledged not to fire long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, so the launch doesn’t violate the letter of his agreement with Trump, but it does violate an understanding Pyongyang made with Seoul to stop firing missiles as a confidence building measure.
Lewis sees a historical parallel with a North Korean promise to declare a moratorium on long range missile tests in the early 2000s that lasted for several years. When Pyongyang broke that moratorium in 2006, they started with a short range missile test that technically did not break the agreement.
“But it was a warning,” Lewis said. “Then as now, talks were deadlocked. They did a short-range missile test and in July they did a big one,” using the long range Taepodong 2 missile. “This is a pretty classic move from them to start small and work their way up. It’s a warning that there’s more to come.”
Despite the prospect of escalating tensions, Pompeo defended the President’s negotiating tactics on ABC, saying “this is the President who has put on the toughest sanctions in the world on North Korea” and that “the US continues to apply pressure.”
He said the US has to “play out every diplomatic effort we have” to achieve denuclearization and do that “without the use of force.”
“We continue to work toward that,” Pompeo said.
Asked about reports that North Korean negotiators involved in the failed Vietnam summit have been executed, Pompeo said, “I don’t have anything to add to that this morning,” but acknowledged that he may have to negotiate with other people going forward.
CNN’s Ryan Browne, Matthew Hoye, Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report