North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) said in a statement, the second such launch in less than a week.
The missiles were launched from the Wonsan-Kalma area just after 5 a.m. local time and 5:27 a.m. (4:27 p.m. ET) on Wednesday, and traveled an estimated distance of 250 kilometers (155 miles) and height of 30 kilometers (18 miles), according to South Korean officials.
A US official also confirmed the missile launches to CNN, adding that they had posed no threat to the US or its allies, and fell into the sea.
But South Korea’s JCS warned in a statement that North Korea’s repeated missile launches did “not aid in efforts to ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula.”
“We call for cessation of these actions,” the statement added.
The Blue House, the South Korean presidential office, said in a statement Wednesday that officials had held an emergency National Security Council meeting this morning.
The timing of Wednesday’s launch coincides with a series of ASEAN meetings being held in the Thai capital Bangkok, which some of the world’s top diplomats will attend. It also comes after North Korean officials last week indicated to the White House that working level talks could start soon, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters, on board his flight to Bangkok, that he didn’t know when talks with North Korea would restart but that he was hopeful it wouldn’t be “too long.”
On June 30, US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Korean Demilitarized Zone — the heavily militarized border between North and South Korea. He made history by stepping over the demarcation line, becoming the first sitting US President to set foot on North Korean soil.
Though Trump and Kim agreed to resume working-level negotiations after their meeting, the two sides have not publicly announced any scheduled talks.
“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, there’s been a little bit of preliminary work to be done but I hope … before too long we’ll have special representative (Stephen) Biegun sitting with what I think will be his new counterpart for North Korea,” Pompeo said Wednesday.
Three launches in three months
Wednesday’s launch was North Korea’s third in as many months. In May, a short-range missile launch appeared to signal Kim’s frustration at deadlocked talks with the US. On July 25, North Korea sent two new short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
According to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the July 25 twin launches were intended to send a warning to South Korea and had been “personally organized” by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The launches might have been North Korea’s response to planned joint military exercises between the US and South Korea, analysts said. The exercises have long been an aggravation for North Korea, which has called them a “rehearsal for war.”
Experts say the Kim regime is also concerned by South Korea’s decision to acquire F-35 stealth fighters, which could be capable of evading North Korean radars. South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced on July 16 that two F-35A stealth fighters had arrived in the country from the US. Seoul currently has four F-35s but plans to acquire 40 by 2021.
KCNA reported Friday that Kim considered South Korea’s military maneuvers to be “suicidal” acts that could torpedo the recent diplomatic progress between the two sides. He also cautioned President Moon Jae-in to heed “the warning from Pyongyang.”
South Korea said then that it viewed the launches as a “military threat” designed to undermine progress toward stability on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea’s National Security Council’s standing committee concluded the launches had involved “a new type of short-range ballistic missile,” suggesting that the isolated country has been actively developing its military capabilities.
It is not clear if Wednesday’s launch involved the new type of missile.
The Kim regime said North Korea would stop testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles during negotiations with Washington, but has not given any assurances regarding other weapons. Still, the tests are a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which bar North Korea from testing and launching ballistic missiles.