SEOUL (REUTERS)- North Korea fired what appears to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Saturday (Aug 24), the South Korean military said, the latest in a series of launches in recent weeks amid stalled denuclearisation talks.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the two missile appeared to be similar to launches in recent weeks.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) said North Korea fired what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles on Saturday at around 6.45am and 7.02am KST (2145, 2202 GMT on Friday) respectively from around Sondok, South Hamgyong Province. Sondok is the site of a North Korean military airfield.
They flew about 380km and reached a height of 97km, JSC said.
Saturday’s launch, the seventh by North Korea since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at the inter-Korean border in June, have complicated attempts to restart talks between US and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
The two leaders agreed to restart working-level negotiations in June, but since then the United States has so far been unsuccessful in attempts to get talks going.
The process has been stalled since an unsuccessful second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi in February. Trump said earlier this month Kim told him he was ready to resume talks on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and would stop missile testing as soon as US-South Korea military exercises ended.
However, while the joint military drills are over, North Korea’s continued launches caused "strong concern", South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) said on Saturday.
But in recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly criticised US and South Korean largely computer-simulated joint military drills, South Korea's import of high-tech weapons such as F-35 stealth jets, and US testing of its intermediate-range cruise missile as threatening and hindrances to dialogue.
On Friday, North Korea's top diplomat called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a "diehard toxin," saying "We are ready for both dialogue and standoff."
South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) expressed "strong concern" over North Korea’s continued launches despite the fact that the South Korea-US joint military exercises denounced by North Korea had ended.
It called for North Korea to stop escalating military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The NSC agreed to make diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea to the negotiating table with the United States as soon as possible for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement.
A senior US administration official said, "We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea, and continue to monitor the situation. We are consulting closely with our Japanese and South Korean allies."
Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said that North Korea’s missile launches were a clear violation of UN resolutions and cannot be ignored.
He confirmed that missiles fell outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and posed no immediate threat to Japan’s security.
Japan’s Jiji news agency reported that Tokyo believed the latest projectiles launched by the North were ballistic missiles and had lodged a strong protest with Pyongyang.
Japan's Coast Guard warned shipping not to approach any fallen debris.
South Korea scrapped an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan this week over a long-running dispute with Tokyo about South Koreans pressed into forced wartime labour by Japan.
Asked if that affected Japan’s ability to gather and analyse information about North Korea, Iwaya said: "The agreement was until November, so we want to continue cooperation with the South Korean and American militaries So we’d like to make that offer to the South Korean side."
South Korea officially informed Japan on Friday of its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing agreement, which Japanese Minister of Defence Takeshi Iwaya said was regrettable and showed it failed to appreciate the growing security threat posed by North Korea.