North Korea Launches Short-Range Missiles, Reports Say

Wahington-Post

South Korean college students stand with a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally to welcome his possible visit to South Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.

North Korea welcomed a USA envoy's visit to Seoul by firing two missiles Thursday, the South's military said, in Pyongyang's second launch in less than a week as it seeks to up the ante in deadlocked nuclear negotiations with Washington.

North Korea fired an unidentified projected eastward from Sino-ri, about 50 miles from Pyongyang, around 4:30 p.m. local time, South Korean officials said. Details from the meeting weren't immediately announced.

Prior to the two recent launches, the North's last known missile test came in November 2017, when it test-fired the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts believe is capable of striking much, if not all, of the continental United States.

The North Korean statements implied that Saturday's weapons launches counter joint military drills conducted by the United States and South Korea in March and April.

South Korea had responded to those tests by calling for an end to acts that escalate military tension.

The South Koreans are likely "just trying to preserve this notion that North Korea has not been overly provocative", said Michael Elleman, director of non-proliferation and nuclear policy at the Washington, D.C. -based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The timing of the complaint was unrelated to the missile launch, US officials said.

North Korea has effectively pulled back from engagement with Washington since a summit between leader Kim Jong Un and Trump in February fell apart without agreement on US demands for the dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear program and Kim's demands for relief from punishing sanctions.

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The request was made in writing, officials said, as part of the cultural exchange between the two countries, and at one point the North Koreans insisted that it be included in the joint statement on denuclearization. However, in February their second summit broke down, reportedly after North Korea demanded that all USA sanctions were lifted before they can move forward.

Meanwhile at a press briefing Monday, the United Nations said the launches were unhelpful.

The North "fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles" from North Pyongan province, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, adding they flew 270 and 420 kilometres (170 and 260 miles) and the South Korean and USA militaries were jointly analysing them.

The tensions in 2017 were followed by a surprising diplomatic outreach by North Korea in 2018, when Kim attended summits with the South Korean and Chinese presidents and with Trump.

North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday defended Saturday's launch as a "routine and self-defensive military drill".

The semantics matter because a ballistic missile of any size would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, which ban the technology and include economic sanctions aimed at halting the North's nuclear weapons program.

They also showed what appeared to be a new short-range ballistic missile fired from a launch vehicle.

However, among member countries of six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear issues, only Japan has not held a bilateral meeting with North Korea.

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