North Korea fires missiles into sea

Display of force after U.S.-ROK naval drills seen as de-escalation

Bloomberg, AFP-JIJI, AP

North Korea fired three short-range missiles Saturday as the totalitarian state showcased its military ambitions in defiance of international sanctions.

The North launched two guided missiles in the morning and a third in the afternoon, all headed northeast into waters off its east coast, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said from Seoul.

South Korea tracked and monitored the missile movements from “start until end,” Kim Haing, a presidential spokeswoman, said by phone.

The launches followed joint South Korea-U.S. naval exercises involving the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz last week.

The short-range projectiles are a downgrade from a series of warnings from Kim’s regime that the Korean Peninsula is on the brink of war.

“Using short-range missiles is a relatively restrained move by North Korea’s standards,” Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Saturday. “Unlike in April when it was sending out hostile messages almost every day, North Korea has been more restrained in the past few weeks.”

On Saturday, Isao Iijima, an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, returned from North Korea but didn’t immediately give details of his talks with leaders there.