Military drills planned with South Korea next month could lead to nuclear-test resumption, Pyongyang says.
North Korea conducted its second weapons test in less than a week on Wednesday, firing two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast in a move observers say could be aimed at boosting pressure on the United States to set up new denuclearisation talks.
The projectiles were launched early from the Hodo Peninsula in South Hamgyong province on North Korea’s east coast, according to South Korea’s military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The two missiles “flew around 250km at an altitude of 30km before falling into the East Sea,” also known as the Sea of Japan, JCS said.
South Korean officials said the two missiles appeared to be of a different type than those launched on Thursday.
The JCS said it was monitoring the situation in case of additional launches and is on standby, Yonhap news agency added.
“The North’s repeated missile launches are not helpful to an effort to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we urge [North Korea] to stop this kind of behaviour,” a JCS statement said.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul, said the missiles were fired 20 minutes apart.
“As always with North Korea, all of these launches are carefully calculated so you have to look at why they are making this statement now, and why it is having this test firing,” McBride said.
He added Pyongyang may be expressing its displeasure over planned joint military exercises between the US and South Korea in the coming month.
The test would be yet another North Korean violation of UN Security Council resolutions and comes as the country’s negotiations with the US over its nuclear weapons programme are at a stalemate.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launches were “no threat to Japanese national security”.
Colonel Lee Peters, a spokesman for US military forces in South Korea, said: “We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
He did not comment when asked whether the joint South Korea-US drills, scheduled to begin next month, would continue.
Last week, North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles, its first missile test since leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump met last month and agreed to revive denuclearisation talks.
Both Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.
The latest test also comes as Pompeo is set to attend a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Bangkok on Wednesday. North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, was initially scheduled to attend that meeting, but later cancelled the trip.
Pompeo said on Monday he hoped working-level talks to revive denuclearisation talks could occur “very soon”.
On Tuesday, he told reporters travelling with him to Asia that he did not know when this would happen but hoped the US special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, and his new counterpart could meet “before too long”.
Since Trump and Kim’s June 30 meeting in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, Pyongyang has accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea this month and warned that these could derail any dialogue.
North Korea has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly upheld as evidence of the success of his engagement with Kim.
A top South Korean official said last month the drills would go ahead as planned but would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.
Harry Kazianis, of Washington’s Center for the National Interest think-tank, said the latest launches were a clear attempt by North Korea to put pressure on Washington.
“For now, it seems any working-level talks between America and North Korea are on hold until the fall, as the Kim regime won’t immediately spring back to diplomacy after this round of tests,” he said.
Other analysts have said North Korea will have been emboldened to press more aggressively for US concessions by Trump’s apparent eagerness to hold up his engagement with North Korea as a foreign policy success in the run-up to his 2020 re-election bid.