SEOUL • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday said North Korea's latest missile firing was a provocative act but that the United States will continue to seek a peaceful resolution, a day after the North launched three short-range missiles that could strike US military bases deep in the South.
"We do view it as a provocative act against the United States and our allies," he said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. "We're going to continue our peaceful pressure campaign as I have described it, working with allies, working with China as well, to see if we can bring the regime in Pyongyang to the negotiating table."
Meanwhile, North Korea yesterday again blasted the ongoing military drills between the US and South Korea. The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said North Korea's permanent representative at the United Nations has sent a letter to the UN Security Council to request urgent discussions over the military exercise, calling it "provocative and aggressive".
The KCNA report also said the military drills are "nothing short of hysteric conduct to add fuel to the raging flames", reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Saturday's missile launches were the latest provocation from Pyongyang since it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, and the first since tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops kicked off joint military drills in the South last Monday.
The US Pacific Command said that one of the three ballistic missiles fired on Saturday had blown up immediately after blast-off, but that two others had travelled about 250km before splashing down.
That would be far enough to reach major South Korean and US military bases, including those near the city of Pyeongtaek, about 96km south of Seoul. The range would also be sufficient to reach Seongju, a South Korean town where the US has begun installing an advanced missile defence system known as Thaad, reported the New York Times.
What is OPLAN 5015?
While United States-South Korea joint military exercises always frustrate North Korea, its state media took aim specifically at a strategic war plan signed off by the allies in November 2015.
The Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary last Friday that a clear proof that the on-going Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise is a rehearsal for an invasion is that "OPLAN 5015 has been applied to the exercises this time".
Operations Plan (OPLAN) 5015, which replaces OPLAN 5027, envisions limited warfare with an emphasis on pre-emptive strikes on strategic targets in North Korea and "decapitation raids" to exterminate North Korean leaders.
The targets include North Korea's nuclear, missile, and command and control facilities.
This is a departure from the past when expectation had been that a second Korean War would resemble the first, a big-unit conventional war with US and South Korean forces first stopping the enemy and then counter-attacking into North Korea.
The US Pacific Command said that one of the three ballistic missiles fired on Saturday had blown up immediately after blast-off, but that two others had travelled about 250km before splashing down. That would be far enough to reach major South Korean and US military bases, including those near the city of Pyeongtaek, about 96km south of Seoul... (and) Seongju, a South Korean town where the US has begun installing an advanced missile defence system known as Thaad.
The North has often tested missiles with similar scope, but the use of a multiple-tube launcher shows an advance in capability.
North Korea also released on Saturday pictures of leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a simulated invasion of the South Korean islands of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong near the tense western border.
In 2010, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians. South Korea has since strengthened its defence posture near the western sea border.
The stimulated attacks showed North Korean special forces, which made their first public appearance at a military parade in April, parachuting into the islands, while others landed by surprise using rubber boats.
Mr Kim "expressed great satisfaction" over the "target-strike" contest and told the special forces to focus on improving the quality of training and strengthen drills of arms, special arms and coordinated drills, reported Yonhap.
The military "should think of mercilessly wiping out the enemy with arms only and occupying Seoul at one go and the southern half of Korea," Mr Kim said, according to KCNA. State media last week released pictures of Mr Kim visiting a facility associated with North Korea's ballistic missile programme. He ordered the production of more rocket engines and missile warheads.
Professor of North Korean studies Kim Yong Hyun, at Seoul's Dongguk University, told Yonhap the flurry of activities is a telling sign that Pyongyang is "extremely nervous".
In what appeared to be a move to downplay tensions, South Korea's presidential office yesterday described Saturday's missile firing as "low-intensity provocation".