SEOUL • North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early yesterday, the South Korean military said, only days after it launched two similar missiles intended to pressure Seoul and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.
The missiles follow launches last Thursday, North Korea's first tests since leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump met on June 30 and agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks.
The series of missile tests raises the stakes for US and South Korean diplomats criss-crossing the region this week in the hope of restarting talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
"North Korea's actions do not help ease military tensions, nor do they help keep the momentum for talks that are under way," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters in Seoul before leaving for a security forum in Bangkok.
Mr Kang urged North Korea to halt the missile launches.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top US North Korea negotiator were also headed to the Asean Regional Forum in the Thai capital, where Mr Pompeo said he was holding out hope that US officials could meet North Korean counterparts.
Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo both played down last week's launches and Mr Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.
The latest launch comes ahead of newly appointed US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper's first official visit to Seoul, which the Pentagon said on Tuesday was scheduled as part of a tour through Asia this month.
Yesterday's missile launches were from the Wonsan area on North Korea's east coast, the same area from where missiles were fired last week, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. It said it was monitoring in case of more launches.
The JCS said later that the North had fired ballistic missiles that flew about 250km and that they appeared to be similar to those launched last week. The missiles, dubbed the KN-23, are designed to evade missile defence systems by being easier to hide, launch, and manoeuvre in flight, experts said.
Mr Kim described the two KN-23s launched last week as having a "low-altitude gliding and leaping flight" pattern that would make them hard to intercept.
Analysts said the range and altitude of yesterday's flights could indicate a demonstration or test of those capabilities.
South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a defence forum in Seoul that stopping a missile like the KN-23 would be difficult, although South Korea's missile defence systems would be able to detect and intercept them.
South Korea's defence ministry also told lawmakers in Seoul it had concluded that a new submarine the North showcased last week was capable of carrying up to three ballistic missiles.
Mr Trump and Mr Kim met on June 30 in the Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas but Pyongyang has since accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea this month and warned the drills could derail talks.
Meanwhile, a senior US administration official said on Tuesday that a North Korean official told a White House National Security Council counterpart last week that working-level talks would start very soon.
Mr Harry Kazianis, of Washington's Centre for the National Interest think-tank, said the latest launches were a clear attempt by Pyongyang to put pressure on the US.
"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.