North Korea has fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, according to South Korea’s military.
The launches are the fifth round in less than three weeks in what is being seen as a protest at the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States and the continuance of US-South Korea joint military exercises.
South Korea’s military alerted reporters to the launches hours after US president Donald Trump said he received a “beautiful” three-page letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and predicted that they will have more talks to try resolving the nuclear standoff.
Mr Trump reiterated that he was not bothered by the flurry of short-range weapons Mr Kim has launched despite the growing threat they pose to US allies in the region.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the presumed ballistic missiles were fired from the North’s eastern coast and flew about 250 miles on an apogee of 30 miles, before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Seoul’s presidential Blue House said the tests were likely aimed at verifying the reliability of the North’s newly developed weapons and also demonstrating displeasure over the allied drills.
The North has unleashed a series of test firings of short-range weapons in recent weeks while saying that the joint military drills between the allies compel it to “develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for national defence”.
Experts say Mr Trump’s 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 allies’ drills later this month.
Leif-Eric Easley, an expert at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, said North Korea is also looking to exploit Mr Trump’s preoccupation with getting South Korea to pay more for US troop deployment in the country as well as Seoul’s worsening relations with Tokyo.
South Korea has threatened to end a military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan in what is seen as an attempt to pressure the United States into mediating the dispute.
“Kim appeals to Trump directly about the exercises, trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul,” Mr 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 allies have scaled down their major military exercises since the first summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump in June 2018 in Singapore created space for diplomacy.
But the North insists even the downsized drills violate agreements between the pair.
The North’s recent tests have dampened the optimism that followed the third and latest meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea on June 30 at the inter-Korean border.
They agreed to resume working-level nuclear talks, but there have been no known meetings between the two sides since then.
- Press Association