North Korea has fired several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said, a likely sign of Pyongyang’s growing frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament.
South Korea’s military has bolstered its surveillance in case there are additional weapons launches, and South Korean and United States authorities are analysing the details.
If it’s confirmed that the North fired banned ballistic missiles, it would be the first such launch since the North’s November 2017 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
That year saw a string of increasingly powerful weapons tests from the North and a belligerent response from US President Donald Trump that had many in the region fearing war.
Analysts said that no matter what type of projectile was fired, the timing of North Korea’s latest action sent a message after the failed summit between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Trump in February, when the two disagreed over weapons dismantlement and sanctions relief.
“It is an expression of the North’s frustration over stalled talks with the United States. It is a message that it could return to the previous confrontational mode if there is no breakthrough in the stalemate,” Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, told Reuters news agency.
“We are aware of North Korea’s actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha agreed to “cautiously respond” to the latest firing and to continue communications during a phone call on Saturday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Pompeo also held talks with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and agreed, together with South Korea, to cooperate and share information, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
“At this point, we have not confirmed any situation where Japan’s national security would immediately be affected,” Japan’s defence ministry said in a statement.
The latest firing comes just a day after South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Pyongyang should show “visible, concrete and substantial” denuclearisation action if it wants sanctions relief.
North Korea’s vice foreign minister said on Tuesday the United States will face “undesired consequences” if it fails to present a new position in denuclearisation talks by the end of the year.
North Korea did not carry out any missile or nuclear tests last year, as Kim held his first historic summits with the leaders of the US and South Korea.
During a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late April, North Korea’s Kim said that peace and security on the Korean peninsula depended on the United States, warning that a state of hostility could easily return, according to North Korean media.