UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — North Korea on Saturday fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles, the South Korean military said, hours after it said it would remain the “biggest threat” to the United States.
North Korea has in recent weeks stepped up weapons tests to protest against US-South Korean military exercises, which it considers a test of its invasion of its territory. The previous test firing took place on Tuesday.
“The military detected two unidentified projectiles suspected of being short-range ballistic missiles,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Saturday.
The two missiles traveled about 380 km and flew at an altitude of 97 km at a maximum speed of 6.5 mash before falling into the Sea of Japan, which Korea calls the East Sea.
The staff said that “our soldiers are following the movements of the north in the event of additional launches, and are ready to face any possibility.”
The South Korean presidency held a meeting of the National Security Council after the test-firing of the projectiles and expressed in a statement “deep concern,” noting that this step comes after the end of the joint exercises between Washington and Seoul.
– Tension between Seoul and Tokyo –
“The members of the National Security Council have decided to continue diplomatic efforts to bring the North to the negotiating table with the United States in order to achieve the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” the National Security Council said.
Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iawa told reporters Tokyo also believed North Korea had fired “two ballistic missiles” in violation of UN resolutions. “We cannot ignore them, whatever their size or the distance they have traveled,” Iowa said.
A senior US official said the United States was monitoring the situation. “We are in close consultation with our Japanese and North Korean allies,” he said.
This comes as relations between Tokyo and Seoul continue to deteriorate due to old differences inherited from Japan’s colonial past on the Korean Peninsula (1910-1945).
South Korea announced Friday that it would continue to share information but through Washington, not as directly as it has been since 2016.
– “The most severe penalties” –
The row between Tokyo and Seoul is a problem for Washington, which relies on cooperation to bolster its policy in a region tense over the North Korean nuclear threat and the rise of China.
The firing of the missiles followed a harsh attack on Pyongyang on Friday by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called it a “deadly poison” following comments that the United States would continue to impose “tougher” sanctions on the North until its nuclear disarmament.
“We are ready for both dialogue and confrontation,” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said in a statement. “The United States is wrong to think that it will remain in a confrontation” with North Korea with “sanctions, not an end,” he said.
“We will remain the biggest ‘threat’ to the United States for a long time and we will understand what to do to eliminate nuclear weapons,” he said.
The isolated nuclear state has test-fired medium-range missiles in recent weeks to protest against joint US-South Korean military exercises, which Pyongyang sees as just exercises to invade.
The last joint military exercise concluded on Tuesday.
Pyongyang’s nuclear talks with Washington have reached a deadlock since the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February.
The two men met again in June at the border in the demilitarized zone that has divided the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The meeting led to the decision to relaunch talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but has yet to resume.
But earlier this week, US special envoy to North Korea Stephen Pigeon said during a visit to Seoul that the United States was “ready” to re-engage in talks once Pyongyang signaled.
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