North Korea on Tuesday launched a salvo of strident criticism — as well as two apparent short-range ballistic missiles — conducting its fourth weapons test in less than two weeks and blasting Washington and Seoul over joint military exercises.
The South Korean military said it had detected the two launches, which it said were “presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles” from the vicinity of Kwail County in South Hwanghae province at 5:24 a.m. and 5:36 a.m. Both missiles landed in the Sea of Japan.
“We detected the altitude of short-range missiles launched this time was around 37 km, the flying distance was around 450 km, and the maximum flying speed was mach 6.9 or higher,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that none of the projectiles had landed in the country’s territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone, and that the launches did not affect its security.
Tokyo also indicated that the projectiles may have been short-range ballistic missiles, Kyodo News quoted an unidentified Japanese government source as saying. The North is banned from testing such weapons under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The launches pose “grave threats and a serious matter to our country,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said in Tokyo.
The U.S. confirmed the launches and said it was working with allies Tokyo and Seoul.
“We continue to monitor the situation and are consulting closely with our South Korean and Japanese allies,” a senior White House official told The Japan Times on condition of anonymity.
New U.S. defense chief Mark Esper, who arrived in Tokyo later Tuesday, said that the United States will not overreact to the series of missiles launches in recent weeks and would keep the door open to talks with Pyongyang.
“The key is to keep the door open for diplomacy… we’re not going to over react to these, but we monitor them, we watch them closely and we’re cognizant of what’s happening,” Esper was quoted as saying.
Shortly after the launches were revealed, the North’s Foreign Ministry ripped into ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises that kicked off Monday, labeling them a “flagrant violation” of efforts to reach peace on the Korean Peninsula and reflecting a lack of “political will” by Seoul and Washington to improve relations.
The comments, in a statement by an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, were carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The spokesman said that if the military exercises continued, the North “will be compelled to seek a new road as we have already indicated.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned in January that he would seek a “new path” if the U.S. misjudges his patience and refuses to ease crippling sanctions.
U.S. officials have said stalled denuclearization talks with the North Koreans will happen “soon,” but have admitted that a time and location have yet to be set.
The U.S. said after President Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border between the two Koreas in late June that the talks would begin sometime in July. That time frame has come and gone, but ahead of the military exercises’ kickoff, U.S. officials said the two sides were still in contact.
The military drills are reportedly command-post exercises mostly involving computer simulations, not mobilization of troops or military equipment, lasting about two weeks, while also testing South Korea’s capabilities in retaking operational control over its forces from the United States during wartime.
The exercises, which began on a low-key note, went ahead despite earlier warnings by Pyongyang, which views the drills as a rehearsal for invasion.