North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, only days after it launched two similar missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.
The launch follows launches on July 25, North Korea‘s first missile tests since leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump met on June 30 and agreed to revive stalled denuclearization talks.
The series of missile tests raises the stakes for U.S. 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 programs.
“North Korea‘s actions do not help ease military tensions, nor do they help keep the momentum for talks that are underway,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters in Seoul before leaving for a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok.
Kang urged North Korea to halt the missile launches.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. North Korea negotiator were also headed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in the Thai capital, where Pompeo said he was holding out hope that U.S. officials could meet North Korean counterparts.
Trump and Pompeo both played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.
The latest launch comes ahead of newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s first official visit to Seoul, which the Pentagon said on Tuesday was scheduled as part of a tour through Asia in August.
U.S. military forces in South Korea were aware of Wednesday’s launch, a spokesman said.
Wednesday’s 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 the North had fired ballistic missiles that flew about 155 miles and that they appeared to be similar to those launched last week.
The missiles, dubbed the KN-23, are designed to evade missile defense systems by being easier to hide, launch and maneuver in flight, experts said.
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 Wednesday’s flights could indicate a demonstration or test of those capabilities.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a defense forum in Seoul that stopping a missile like the KN-23 would be difficult, although South Korea‘s missile defense systems would be able to detect and intercept them.
South Korea‘s Defense 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.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no impact from Wednesday’s launch on Japan’s security.
“We will continue to closely cooperate with the United States and others,” Abe told reporters.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would still seek a summit with North Korea, without conditions, despite the latest launch.