SEOUL—North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off the country’s east coast early Wednesday morning, South Korea’s military said, Pyongyang’s second weapons test in under a week as the Kim regime appears to be adding pressure on the U.S. as nuclear talks have hit an impasse.
The missiles were fired from a tiny peninsula located in North Korea’s South Hamgyong province and traveled about 155 miles to the northeast, South Korea’s military said. The pair of launches occurred at 5:06 a.m. and 5:27 a.m. local time.
The weapons test occurs just six days after the North launched two short-range ballistic missiles, which military experts believe shared the attributes of a Russian Iskander missile. Pyongyang conducted the latest test from the same area used during last week’s launch, a spokesman for Seoul’s defense ministry said.
Pyongyang’s state-run media has grown angrier in recent weeks despite an impromptu meeting late last month between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump at the Korean demilitarized zone. The two sides at the time agreed to restart nuclear talks that had stalled following an abrupt breakdown at February’s summit in Vietnam.
The Kim regime has taken offense over a planned U.S.-South Korea military exercise, among other issues. Prior to the past week’s weapons launches, the North last test-fired missiles in May, conducting two tests within five days of each other.
North Korean state media had no immediate comment.
Talks between raised hopes that Kim Jong Un will stop developing or even surrender his nuclear But experts point satellite images say show ramping up production arsenal past Photo composite: Sharon Shi
In Washington, a senior administration official said the U.S. was aware of reports about the launch and will continue to monitor the situation. South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said hours after the Wednesday launch that North Korea should be considered an adversary if it continues to threaten the South.
Ahead of the North’s recent reports of a weapons test, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Asia to attend a regional security conference, where he wasn’t expected to meet with Pyongyang officials.
Mr. Pompeo told reporters traveling with him Tuesday that he’s very hopeful talks with North Korea will start again before too long. “Chairman Kim said when the two leaders met at the DMZ that they would start in a few weeks. It’s taking a little bit longer than that,” Mr. Pompeo said.
The North’s firing of two short-range missile tests last week showed off a new “tactical guided weapon system,” which can glide at low altitudes and is characterized by a “leaping flight orbit,” Pyongyang’s state media said Friday. The purpose of the drill was to send a “solemn warning” to Seoul over the planned U.S.-South Korean military exercises, according to the state-media report.
Pyongyang has conducted five weapons tests since no deal was reached between the two sides in Vietnam, an outcome the Kim regime blames on the U.S.
The two sides hold different views on how, and when, North Korea should relinquish its nuclear arsenal in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions against Pyongyang. Mr. Kim, who has promised his cash-strapped country an economic rebound, has given Washington until year’s end to shift its negotiating stance or risk facing a gloomy response.
Pyongyang has upped its shows of military force in recent weeks, including Mr. Kim’s visit last week to a newly built submarine that military experts believe could carry a nuclear missile.
Last week, the Trump administration sought to tone down Pyongyang’s provocation, a similar approach taken after the Kim regime’s May missile tests. Mr. Trump said last week the North Koreans “really haven’t tested any missiles” other than “smaller ones, which is something lots test.”
The latest missile test could be sending a message to Washington and Seoul over their planned military exercise, said Bruce Klingner, a former Central Intelligence Agency deputy division chief for Korea, now at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
“What is clear is that the U.S. and South Korea canceling 12 military exercises and reducing others, along with this year’s meek response to six North Korean violations of U.N. resolutions and not fully enforcing sanctions, didn’t induce Pyongyang to better behavior,” Mr. Klingner said.
The Kim regime is trying to condition the U.S. into accepting the short-range missile tests as a fact of life, training the international audience to be thankful that “it could have been worse” if Pyongyang had conducted long-range or nuclear tests, said Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.
“North Korea has created the illusion that a more severe crisis had been averted while threatening to bring on one of those next — unless, that is, the United States backs down,” Mr. Lee said.
Vipin Narang, a professor of security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the test sends a message of frustration over the U.S.-South Korea drill without derailing diplomacy with Mr. Trump.
“It’s a reminder that during this whole process, North Korea continues to improve and expand its missile and nuclear weapons arsenal.,” Mr. Narang said.
—Courtney McBride and Andrew Jeong contributed to this article.
Write to Timothy W. Martin at email@example.com
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