21.11.2019

North Korea fires two ballistic missiles, South Korea says

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, less than a week after launching two new short-range ballistic missiles.

Since Trump and Kim’s June 30 meeting, Pyongyang has threatened to derail dialogue with the US [Ahn Young-joon/AP]

The projectiles were launched early on Wednesday from the Hodo Peninsula in South Hamgyong Province on North Korea’s east coast, according to the JCS.

The two missiles “flew around 250 kilometres at an altitude of 30 kilometres before falling into the East Sea”, also known as the Sea of Japan, an official at the JCS told AFP news agency.

South Korean officials said the two missiles appeared to be of different type than the missiles launched on Thursday.

The JCS said it was monitoring the situation in case of additional launches and is on standby, Yonhap added.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul said, that the two missiles were fired 20 minutes apart.

“As always with North Korea, all of these launches are carefully calculated, so you have to look at why they are making this statement now, and why it is having this test firing,” McBride said.

He added that Pyongyang may be expressing its displeasure over the planned joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea in the coming month.

Earlier on Wednesday, Japan’s defence minister said any ballistic missile launch by North Korea would violate United Nations resolutions.

Colonel Lee Peters, a spokesman for US military forces in South Korea, said: “We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

He did not comment when asked whether the joint South Korea-US drills, scheduled to begin next month, would continue.

Last week, North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles, its first missile test since leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump met last month and agreed to revive denuclearisation talks.

Both Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.

Bangkok meeting cancelled

The latest test also comes as Pompeo is set to attend a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Bangkok on Wednesday. North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, was initially scheduled to attend that meeting, but later cancelled the trip.

Pompeo had said on Monday that he hoped working-level talks to revive denuclearisation talks could occur “very soon.”

On Tuesday, he told reporters travelling with him to Asia that he did not know when this would happen, but hoped the US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his new counterpart could meet “before too long.”

Since Trump and Kim’s June 30 meeting in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, Pyongyang has accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea this month and warned that these could derail any dialogue.

North Korea has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly upheld as evidence of the success of his engagement with Kim.

A top South Korean official said last month the drills would go ahead as planned but would largely involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.

Harry Kazianis, of Washington’s Center for the National Interest think-tank, told Reuters news agency the latest launches were a clear attempt by North Korea to put pressure on Washington.

“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.

Other analysts have said that North Korea will have been emboldened to press more aggressively for US concessions by Trump’s apparent eagerness to hold up his engagement with North Korea as a foreign policy success in the run-up to his 2020 re-election bid.

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