North Korea fires short-range missiles as US envoy visits South Korea

South Korea, North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested that North Korea’s missile launch could be a protest against the US after the failed Kim-Trump summit in February. But he urged the North to refrain from such actions.

North Korea appeared to have fired two short-range missiles, South Korea’s military said on Thursday.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the two missiles were fired from the northwest area of Kusong, in an easterly direction, before falling into the sea.

The missile launches came after North Korea carried out a military drill and fired multiple projectiles on Saturday. They also coincided with the arrival of Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy to North Korea, in Seoul for talks with South Korean authorities.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House dubbed the missile launches “very worrisome” and a setback to peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s ‘discontent’

Responding to the Thursday launch, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to refrain from belligerence. “I want to tell North Korea once again that it’s not ideal to repeat actions that create various interpretations of its intent, raise concern and risk throwing cold water on the atmosphere of dialogue and negotiations,” Moon Jae-in said in an interview with South Korean broadcaster KBS.

Moon suggested that the latest North Korean missile launches could be a result of Pyongyang’s displeasure with the protracted talks.

“North Korea seemed to be discontented it could not reach a deal in Hanoi,” Moon said.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have not yielded significant results, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blaming the US for the failure of Hanoi talks in February.

Moon, however, sees it as a sign that North Korea wants to negotiate. He said that he plans to push for a fourth inter-Korean summit with Kim.

A summit between Moon and Kim a year ago was instrumental in improving ties between the two Koreas, but Pyongyang has accused Seoul of siding with Washington since the Vietnam summit.

President Donald Trump said Thursday the US was looking very seriously at North Korea’s latest missile launch.

“We’re looking at it very seriously right now. They were smaller missiles, they were short-range missiles,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

The US president said that although North Koreans want to negotiate, he does not think that “they’re ready to negotiate.”

The US also announced Thursday it had seized the North Korea registered bulk carrier M/V Wise Honest, a year after it was detained in Indonesia. The US claimed the ship had been used to illicitly export coal and import heavy machinery.

Growing tensions

South Korea’s military said it was collaborating with the US and had stepped up monitoring after North’s Thursday launch.

“We’re aware of the reports and monitoring,” said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn, a spokesman for Pentagon.

Harry Kazianis of the Centre for the National Interest told AFP news agency that the North’s latest military actions could worsen already growing tensions.

“Kim’s goal, beyond ensuring his weapons programs are becoming more powerful, is quite clear: to show America and its allies that if they aren’t willing to compromise on the terms of denuclearization that Pyongyang will indeed go its own way,” Kazianis said.

US President Donald Trump had earlier said that he was confident the North wanted to continue its denuclearization dialogue.

“Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it,” Trump tweeted.

“He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!” Trump added.

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