South Korea said North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into its eastern waters on Thursday as it revives its testing activity to expand its military capabilities and pressure the Biden administration while nuclear negotiations remain stalled.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the U.S. and South Korean militaries were analyzing the launches that were conducted from an area on the North’s eastern coast. It didn’t immediately say whether the weapons were ballistic or how far they flew.
But Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the North Korean weapons were ballistic missiles and that they did not reach Japanese waters. Suga said the launches threaten “peace and safety in Japan and the region,” and that Tokyo will closely coordinate with Washington and Seoul on the North’s testing activities.
The launches came a day after U.S. and South Korean officials said the North fired short-range weapons presumed to be cruise missiles into its western sea over the weekend.
The negotiations over the North’s nuclear program faltered after the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s second summit with former President Donald Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities.
Since Trump’s first meeting with Kim in 2018, the North has not conducted nuclear or long-range missile tests, although analysts believe they have pressed ahead with their programs on both.
The North has continued short- and medium range missile testing during its suspension of nuclear and long-range tests, expanding its ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. bases there.
North Korea has so far ignored the Biden administration’s efforts to reach out, saying it won’t engage in meaningful talks unless Washington abandons its “hostile” policies.
Kim’s powerful sister last week berated the United States over its latest round of combined military exercises with South Korea that ended earlier this month, describing the drills as an invasion rehearsal and warned Washington to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.
Just hours after Thursday’s launches, South Korea Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong was to meet with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Seoul for discussions on North Korea and other regional issues. South Korea’s presidential office said it will hold an emergency National Security Council meeting to discuss the launches.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the North’s short-range tests on Sunday were its first missile firings since April 2020. President Joe Biden played down those launches, telling reporters, “There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”
North Korea has a history of testing new U.S. administrations with missile launches and other provocations aimed at forcing the Americans back to the negotiating table.
While Kim has vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in recent speeches, he also tried to give the new U.S. administration an opening by saying that the fate of their relations depends on Washington.
During his visit to Seoul last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sternly criticized North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and human rights record and pressed China to use its “tremendous influence” to convince the North to denuclearize.