North Korea yesterday extended a streak of weapons displays by firing what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, South Korea’s military said.
The fifth round of launches in less than three weeks was likely another protest at the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the US and the continuance of US-South Korea joint military exercises that the North has said are aimed at a northward invasion.
The South’s military alerted reporters to the launches hours after US President Donald Trump said that he received a “beautiful” three-page letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and predicted that they would have more talks to try resolving the nuclear standoff.
Trump reiterated that he was not bothered by the flurry of short-range weapons launches, despite the growing threat they pose to US allies in the region, saying that Pyongyang has never broken its pledge to pause nuclear tests.
The presumed ballistic missiles were fired from the North’s east coast and flew about 400km with an apogee of 48km before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Seoul’s presidential Blue House said that the tests were likely aimed at verifying the reliability of the North’s newly developed weapons and also demonstrating displeasure over the military drills.
Hours after the launches, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency released a statement denouncing South Korea’s acquisition of US-made F-35 warplanes and other plans to expand its military capabilities, saying that the moves deteriorate trust and increase the risk of war.
The South will gain “nothing but destruction if it treats [a nation of the same race] with hostility and pursues a contest of strength,” it said.
North Korea has test-fired a barrage of short-range weapons in the past several weeks while saying that the joint military drills between the US and South Korea compel it to “develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for national defense.”
Pyongyang did not immediately comment on the launches.
South Korea has said that the weapons tests do not help efforts to stabilize peace and called for Pyongyang to uphold an agreement reached last year to form a joint military committee to discuss reducing military tensions.
The missile tests have come amid stalled talks on the North’s nuclear program. So far, North Korea has stuck by its unilateral suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests, which came during a diplomatic outreach to Washington last year.
Experts have said that Trump downplaying the North’s launches allowed the country more room to intensify its testing activity while it seeks to build leverage ahead of negotiations, which could possibly resume sometime after the end of the US-South Korean drills later this month.
North Korea is also looking to exploit Trump’s preoccupation with getting South Korea to pay more for US troops stationed in the country, as well as Seoul’s worsening relations with Tokyo over an escalating trade war that has spilled over to security issues, Ewha Womans University international relations professor Leif-Eric Easley said in Seoul.
South Korea has threatened to end a military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan in what is seen as an attempt to pressure the US into mediating the dispute.
“Kim appeals to Trump directly about the exercises, trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul,” Easley said. “Meanwhile, North Korean propaganda supports rising anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea, calculating that a diplomatically isolated Seoul will be more subject to Pyongyang’s coercion.”
The North’s tests have dampened the optimism that followed the third meeting between Trump and Kim on June 30 at the inter-Korean border. The leaders agreed to resume working-level nuclear talks, but there have been no known meetings between the two sides since then.
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