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North Korea fires missiles into sea, fresh nuclear talks in doubt

Japan's defence ministry said the missiles did not reach Japan's exclusive economic zone and had no immediate impact on national security. The firing of ballistic missiles casts new doubts on efforts to restart denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the end of June.

By: Reuters | Seoul |
July 25, 2019 7:57:55 am
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, July 25, 2019. North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into the sea on Thursday, South Korea’s military said, the first launches in more than two months as North Korean and US officials work to restart nuclear diplomacy. (AP Photo)

North Korea fired two short-range missiles early on Thursday from its eastern coast, South Korea’s military said, the first missile test since leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks. The missiles launched from near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan flew about 430 km (267 miles) and reached an altitude of 50 km (30 miles) before falling into the East Sea, an official at South Korea’s defence ministry told Reuters.

Japan’s defence ministry said the missiles did not reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone and had no immediate impact on national security. The firing of ballistic missiles casts new doubts on efforts to restart denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the end of June.

The White House, Pentagon and US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said according to initial information at least one short-range projectile was fired from North Korea. The official added that further analysis is underway.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hardline towards North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday after a visit to South Korea. He said he had “productive meetings” with Seoul officials on regional security and building a stronger alliance. After Trump and Kim met in the DMZ, the United States and North Korea vowed to soon hold a new round of working-level talks, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticised upcoming joint military drills by US and South Korean troops.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said on Thursday ambassador to the United States Cho Yoon-je told reporters that Washington has offered to discuss the time and location of such talks but there was no response from Pyongyang yet. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s foreign minister were widely expected to meet on the sidelines of an ASEAN security forum in Bangkok next week, but diplomatic sources said nothing has been decided so far.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that Washington’s pattern of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” by holding military exercises with South Korea was leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. “North Korea is clearly upset that the US and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises,” said Harry Kazianis of Washington’s Center for the National Interest. “We should not be shocked by this move and, in fact, we should have seen it coming.”

North Korea’s last weapons testing in May included short-range missiles as well as smaller rockets. At the time, Kim oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon – a relatively small, fast missile that experts believe will be easier to hide, launch and manoeuvre in flight. On Tuesday, state news agency KCNA reported that Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine, accompanied by missile programme leaders. It potentially signalled continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) programme.

“By taking issue with military drills, showing a new submarine and firing missiles, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy. Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the United States stalled after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down. Trump has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim and is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

On Monday, Trump stressed North Korea’s freeze in testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which has been in place since 2017, and positive recent exchanges. “There was a little correspondence recently,” he said. “We had very positive correspondence with North Korea. Again there’s no nuclear testing, there’s no missile testing, there’s no nothing.”

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