SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan’s Coast Guard said it detected suspected ballistic missile launches from North Korea on Saturday, while the South Korean military said North Korea had fired two projectiles into the sea off its east coast.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said North Korea had fired two missiles that appeared to be short-range missiles, similar to launches in recent weeks.
A series of launches by North Korea since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at the inter-Korean border in June have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
The two leaders agreed to restart working-level negotiations in June, but since then the United States has so far been unsuccessful in attempts to get talks going.
U.S. envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun was in Seoul this week to discuss ways to get negotiations back on track.
“We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea,” Biegun said on Wednesday.
But in recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly criticized U.S. and South Korean largely computer-simulated joint military drills, South Korea’s import of high-tech weapons such as F-35 stealth jets, and U.S. testing of its intermediate-range cruise missile as threatening and hindrances to dialogue.
On Friday, North Korea’s top diplomat called U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “diehard toxin,” saying “We are ready for both dialogue and standoff.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) said North Korea fired the projectiles on Saturday morning from around Sondok, South Hamgyong Province. Sondok is the site of a North Korean military airfield.
Missiles launched by North Korea on Saturday did not land in Japanese territory or within its Exclusive Economic Zone, a spokeswoman for Japan’s Self Defense Forces said.
Japan’s Coast Guard warned shipping not to approach any fallen debris.
A senior U.S. administration official said, “We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea, and continue to monitor the situation. We are consulting closely with our Japanese and South Korean allies.”
South Korea’s presidential office is holding a National Security Council meeting about North Korea’s launch, the office said.
South Korea officially informed Japan on Friday of its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing agreement, which Japanese Minister of Defence Takeshi Iwaya said was regrettable and showed it failed to appreciate the growing security threat posed by North Korea.
Reporting by Joyce Lee in SEOUL, Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Richard Chang and Sandra Maler