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North Korea fires missiles into sea – Seoul

North Korea has been ramping up the pressure on the US and South Korea over their expected summertime military drills.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Ahn Young-joon/AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea, South Korea’s military has said, the first weapons launches in more than two months and an apparent pressuring tactic aimed at Washington.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles fired from around the North’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan flew about 430km (270 miles) before landing in the waters off the country’s east coast.

A South Korean defence official said that an initial South Korean analysis showed both missiles were fired from mobile launchers and flew at a maximum altitude of 50km (30 miles).

The North is unhappy with planned US-South Korean military drills that it says are an invasion preparation, and the missile tests may be aimed at sending a message to Washington about what would happen if diplomacy fails.

The timing was also interesting, coming not long after many in the United States were focused on testimony before Congress by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, about his two-year probe into Russian election interference.

And a day earlier, US national security adviser John Bolton left Seoul after agreeing with South Korean officials to boost cooperation to achieve North Korea’s denuclearisation.

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It is the first launches in more than two months, South Korea said (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

But the relatively short flight distance by the missiles also suggests the launches were not a major provocation, such as a test of a long-range missile capable of reaching the US mainland, and that North Korea does not appear to be pulling out of a US-led diplomacy on its nuclear programme.

In recent days, North Korea has been ramping up the pressure on the US and South Korea over their expected summertime military drills that it views as an invasion rehearsal.

Last week, the North said it may lift its 20-month suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests in response to the drills.

US president Donald Trump has considered the weapons moratorium a major achievement in his North Korea policy.

Some experts say it was a negotiating tactic by North Korea to take issue with the drills in order to get an upper hand ahead of the possible resumption of talks.

North Korea wants to get widespread sanction relief to revive its dilapidated economy, but US officials want the country to take significant disarmament steps before they give up the leverage provided by the sanctions.

A senior US official said the Trump administration was aware of the reports of a short-range projectile launched from North Korea.

The official said the administration had no further comment at this time.

If they were ballistic missiles, they violate the UN resolutions, and I find it extremely regrettable Japan's Defence Minister

South Korean Defence Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo urged Pyongyang to stop acts that are “not helpful to efforts to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

If North Korea fired ballistic missiles, it could have ramifications because UN Security Council resolutions ban the North from engaging in any launch using ballistic technology.

Still, the US Security Council has typically imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea only when it conducted long-range ballistic missile tests.

“If they were ballistic missiles, they violate the UN resolutions, and I find it extremely regrettable,” Japan’s Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters in Tokyo.

It was the first such launch since Seoul said North Korea fired three short-range missiles off its east coast in early May.

Many experts said at the time that those missiles bore a strong resemblance to the Russian-designed Iskander, a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile that has been in the Russian arsenal for more than a decade.

Analyst Kim Dong-yub at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies said the latest North Korean missiles could be Scud-C ballistic missiles or KN-23 surface-to-surface missiles, a North Korean version of the Iskander.

South Korea’s military said it and the US military were analysing details of Thursday’s launches.

South Korea said it was monitoring possible additional launches by North Korea.

During a third summit at the Korean border late last month, Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to resume nuclear negotiations, which had been deadlocked since their second summit in Vietnam in February ended without an agreement because of disputes over US-led sanctions.

Both the launches in May and on Thursday will not end that weapons test moratorium, which applies to firing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

PA

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