North Korea fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday in the seventh weapons launch in a month, South Korea’s military said, a day after the North vowed to remain the United States’s biggest threat in protest against US-led sanctions on the country.
North Korea had been expected to halt weapons tests because the 10-day US-South Korean drills, which it views as an invasion rehearsal, ended earlier this week.
Saturday’s launches were made from northeastern South Hamgyong province, South Korea‘s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. They flew about 380 kilometres (236 miles) at the maximum altitude of 97 kilometres (60 miles), the military said.
The Japanese government said the suspected missiles caused no damage and did not land in its territorial waters.
South Korea’s National Security Council expressed strong concern about the launches and urged North Korea to cease acts that raised military tensions. Council members said South Korea would launch diplomatic efforts to make North Korea return to nuclear talks with the United States, according to the president’s office.
North Korea’s foreign minister said on Friday his country would try to remain “America’s biggest threat” if the US continued to confront it with sanctions. Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho also called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “poisonous plant of American diplomacy” and promised to “shutter the absurd dream” that sanctions would force a change in Pyongyang.
Ri’s blistering rhetoric and the missile launches may dim the prospect for an early resumption of nuclear negotiations between the countries. The top US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, said on Wednesday that Washington was ready to restart the talks.
North Korea’s anger over the US-South Korean military drills had focused on South Korea, not the US. Starting in late July, North Korea has tested a slew of weapons, mostly short-range missiles and rockets. Some of the weapons revealed developments of a new rocket artillery system and two different short-range mobile ballistic missiles that experts say would expand its ability to strike targets throughout South Korea.
Many analysts said the tests were aimed at applying more pressure on the United States ahead of a possible resumption of nuclear talks.
US-led diplomacy to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons collapsed after President Donald Trump rejected North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s demand for widespread sanctions relief in return for partial disarmament steps during their second summit in Vietnam in February. Trump and Kim met again at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume the talks.
Saturday’s launches came two days after South Korea said it would terminate a military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan amid bitter trade and history disputes between the US allies.
The decision drew criticism that it would end up weakening South Korea’s defence and reconnaissance capability at a time when North Korea’s nuclear threats remain intact. The US, which wants stronger trilateral security cooperation with Seoul and Tokyo, expressed disappointment at the South Korean decision.
South Korea’s military said it would share information on the latest North Korean launches with Japan at Tokyo’s request as the intelligence deal is valid until November.
“We want to continue the cooperation among Japan, the US and South Korea,” Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters. “North Korea’s repeated launches of projectiles and missiles show North Korea is working on developing such technology.”