North Korea has launched two “unidentified projectiles” toward the ocean off its eastern coast, South Korean military says, in the latest in a series of launches by Pyongyang amid the gridlocked nuclear talks with the United States.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced the news in a statement, carried by the country’s Yonhap news agency, saying that the launches were carried out on Saturday morning from around Sondok, South Hamgyong Province.
Sondok is the site of a North Korean military airfield.
“Our military is tracking the movement in the North in case of additional launches, with firm readiness,” the JCS added, without giving details regarding the type of the projectiles and whether they were missiles.
Separately, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement that it would hold a National Security Council meeting following the North’s latest weapons test.
Japan’s Coast Guard also confirmed North’s test-fire but said that it had detected one launch and that it was a suspected ballistic missile. It also warned shipping not to approach any fallen debris.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Self Defense also said in a statement that the missile launched by North Korea did not land in Japanese territory or within its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The development came hours after Pyongyang made a scathing attack on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling him a “diehard toxin” following his comment that Washington would continue the “toughest” sanctions on Pyongyang until it denuclearizes.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump have so far met three times to discuss a persisting dispute over the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Their first meeting was held in Singapore in June last year with little progress, mainly because the US refused to lift its harsh sanctions on North Korea. They met each other for their second summit in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, in February, which ended in failure as Trump abruptly walked away from the summit.
The collapse of the Vietnam summit prompted Pyongyang to warn that it was considering ending the talks and resuming its nuclear and missile tests.
The two leaders, however, briefly met again at the Korean border in late June, when the pair agreed to kick-start working-level talks.
North Korea is furious by joint military exercises by the US and its ally South Korea, saying that the annual 10-day drills violate agreements reached with Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in.
Pyongyang has long condemned the joint exercises as a rehearsal for invasion of the North’s territories. The US stations nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea to purportedly defend it from its northern neighbor.
North Korea, currently under multiple rounds of sanctions by the United Nations (UN) and the US over its nuclear and missile programs, put a unilateral halt to its missile and nuclear tests shortly before a diplomatic thaw began between Pyongyang and Seoul in early 2018. The thaw later led to two official summits between Trump and Kim in Singapore and Vietnam.
Since late July, North Korea has carried out a number of weapons tests, described by the South as short-range ballistic missiles. Trump has downplayed the launches, saying that other countries also test the same missiles.
Washington has so far refused to remove any sanctions in return for several unilateral steps already taken by Pyongyang. North Korea has also demolished at least one nuclear test site and agreed to allow international inspectors into a missile engine test facility.