SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea fired what appeared to be short-range nuclear ballistic missiles twice Friday into the sea off its eastern coast in its third round of weapons tests in just over a week, South Korea’s military and presidential office said.
Its leader Kim Jong Un personally led the firing, pushing the button and wait until the missiles blasted on the sea.
The increased testing activity is seen as brinkmanship aimed at increasing pressure on Seoul and Washington over stalled nuclear negotiations. North Korea also has expressed frustration at planned US-South Korea military exercises, and experts say its weapons displays could intensify in coming months if progress on the nuclear negotiations isn’t made.
By test-firing weapons that directly threaten South Korea but not the US mainland or its Pacific territories, North Korea may also be trying to dial up pressure on Seoul and test how far Washington will tolerate its bellicosity without actually causing the nuclear negotiations to collapse.
Seoul’s Joint chiefs of Staff said the launches were conducted at 2:59 a.m. (2:29 a.m. in Manila) and 3:23 a.m. (2:53 a.m. in Manila) from an eastern coastal area and said the projectiles flew 220 kilometers on an apogee of 25 kilometers and at a max speed of Mach 6.9.
South Korea’s presidential office, which held an emergency meeting presided over by chief national security adviser Chung Eui-yong to discuss the launches, said the South Korean and US militaries shared an assessment that the projectiles were likely newly developed short-range ballistic missiles the North has been testing in recent weeks.
However, the office said further analysis was needed because the projectiles showed similar flight characteristics with the weapons that the North test-fired on Wednesday and described as a new rocket artillery system.
Kim Eun-han, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said the Seoul government expressed “deep regret” over launches that it believes could hurt efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said it was analyzing the launch and that the projectiles did not reach Japanese territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone.
The North fired short-range ballistic missiles on July 25 and conducted what it described as a test firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system on Wednesday.
Amid the stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the United States, North Korea has significantly slowed diplomatic activity with the South while demanding Seoul turn away from Washington and proceed with joint economic projects that have been held back by US-led sanctions against the North.