SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s military said North Korea fired unidentified projectiles twice Friday into the sea off its eastern coast in its third weapons tests in just over a week.
The North’s increased testing activity is seen as brinkmanship aimed at increasing pressure on Seoul and Washington over the slow pace of nuclear negotiations.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launches were conducted at 2:59 a.m. and 3:23 a.m. from an eastern coastal area but did not immediately confirm how many projectiles were fired or how far they flew. An official from the JCS, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules, said more analysis would be required to determine whether the projectiles were ballistic missiles or rocket artillery.
The North fired short-range ballistic missiles on July 25 and conducted what it described as a test firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system on Wednesday.
Experts say the North is demonstrating its frustration over planned U.S.-South Korea military exercises and stalled nuclear negotiations with the United States, and its weapons tests could intensify if negotiations do not proceed rapidly over the next few months.
By firing weapons that directly threaten South Korea but not the U.S. mainland or its Pacific territories, North Korea also appears to be dialing up pressure on Seoul and testing how far Washington will tolerate its bellicosity without actually causing the nuclear negotiations to collapse, analysts say.
Amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the United States, North Korea has significantly slowed diplomatic activity with the South while demanding Seoul turn away from Washington and proceed with joint economic projects that have been held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
The North’s new launches came as the United Kingdom, France and Germany – following a closed U.N. Security Council briefing – condemned the North’s recent ballistic activity as violations of U.N. sanctions and urged Pyongyang to engage in “meaningful negotiations” with the United States on eliminating its nuclear weapons.
The three countries also urged North Korea “to take concrete steps toward its complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” and said international sanctions should remain in place and be fully enforced until its nuclear and ballistic missile programs are dismantled.
U.S. officials have downplayed the threat of the launches to the United States and its allies.
North Korea’s state media has said leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday supervised the first test firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system he said would soon serve a “main role” in his military’s land combat operations and create an “inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon.”
The report by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency differed from the assessment by South Korea’s military, which had concluded Wednesday’s launches were of two short-range ballistic missiles.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons it assessed as missiles flew about 250 kilometers (155 miles), a range that would be enough to cover the metropolitan region surrounding capital Seoul, where about half of South Koreans live, and a major U.S. military base just south of the city.
On July 25, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles that Seoul officials said flew 600 kilometers (370 miles) and as high as 50 kilometers (30 miles) before landing in the sea.
North Korea said those tests were designed to deliver a “solemn warning” to South Korea over its purchase of high-tech, U.S.-made fighter jets and the planned military drills, which Pyongyang calls an invasion rehearsal. The North also tested short-range missiles on May 4 and 9.
Kim and President Donald Trump held an impromptu summit on June 30 at the inter-Korean border where they agreed to resume nuclear diplomacy that had stalled following the collapse of their February meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament. However, there hasn’t been a known meeting between the countries since then.
Attending an Asian security conference in Bangkok, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday the Trump administration remains ready to resume talks with North Korea now, but said a meeting between the two sides during the conference this week would be unlikely.