SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two suspected short-range missiles toward the sea on Thursday, South Korean officials said, its second weapons launch in five days and a possible warning that nuclear disarmament talks with Washington could be in danger.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons flew 260 miles and 167 miles, respectively. It said it is working with the United States to determine more details, such as the types of weapons that were fired.
South Korea’s military said earlier that at least one projectile was launched from the Sino-ri area of North Pyongan province, an area known to have one of North Korea’s oldest missile bases where a brigade operates mid-range Rodong missiles. It later said there were two launches from the nearby town of Kusong, where North Korea conducted its first successful flight tests of its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile and Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, both in 2017.
Kusong is also home to missile test facilities that were critical to the development of North Korea’s solid-fuel Pukguksong-2, which was successfully flight-tested for the first time in February 2017, in the North’s first missile test after President Donald Trump took office.
The latest launches came as U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun visits South Korea, and hours after the North described its firing of rocket artillery and an apparent short-range ballistic missile on Saturday as a regular and defensive military exercise. North Korea also ridiculed South Korea for criticizing those launches.
Trump said he’s not happy about North Korea’s recent military tests. Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that “we’re looking” at the situation “very seriously right now.”
He said the weapons are smaller, short-range missiles, but adds: “Nobody’s happy about it.”
Trump, who has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un twice now, said: “I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to refrain from actions that could impede diplomacy. In an interview with the KBS television network, Moon also said Seoul will explore various options to help revive the talks, including providing food aid to the North and pushing for his fourth summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I want to tell North Korea once again that it’s not ideal to repeat actions that create various interpretations of its intent, raise concern and risk throwing cold water on the atmosphere of dialogue and negotiations,” said Moon, a liberal who facilitated contacts between the U.S. and North Korea last year.
Moon’s office earlier said the North Korean launches were “very concerning” and detrimental to efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.With the consecutive weapons launches, North Korea is pressuring South Korea to turn away from the United States and support North Korea’s position more strongly, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Following the collapse of the Trump-Kim meeting, North Korea demanded that South Korea proceed with joint economic projects that have been held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
By firing weapons that directly threaten South Korea but not the U.S. mainland or its Pacific territories, North Korea also appears to be testing how far Washington will tolerate its bellicosity without actually causing the nuclear negotiations to collapse, Cha said.
“To the United States, the North is saying ‘don’t push me into a corner.’ To South Korea, the North is saying the inter-Korean peace agreements could become nothing if Seoul fails to coax major concessions from the United States on behalf of the North,” Cha said.
South Korean and U.S. officials have described what North Korea fired Saturday as “projectiles,” a broader term that includes both missiles and artillery pieces. This could be an effort to keep diplomacy alive, as U.N. sanctions bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activity. — (AP)