North Korea fired several rounds of unidentified short-range “projectiles” into the Sea of Japan on Saturday, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The North “fired multiple rounds of unidentified projectiles from its east coast town of Wonsan in the northeastern direction between 9:06 a.m. and 9:27 a.m. today,” the JCS said in a release. They flew for a range of about 70 kilometers to 200 kilometers, the JCS said.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said the projectiles did not reach anywhere near the country’s coast and that Japan is not facing any security threat. The ministry said it has not detected signs that any of the projectiles fired Saturday reached in or around the country’s territory or its 200-nautical-mile (320-kilometer) exclusive economic zone.
Japan is seen as likely to avoiding any harsh response as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to secure a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The JCS had initially referred to the weapons as being missiles. The change suggested the firings could have involved multiple rocket launches, not missiles.
“What the North fired this time is not a ballistic missile,” the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified official with the country’s military as saying.
The top diplomats of South Korea and Japan also spoke separately with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the telephone, with Washington agreeing to “prudently” handle the North Korean launch, the South’s Foreign Ministry said.
“Regarding today’s launch, the two sides agreed to prudently deal with it and continue to communicate while continuing additional analysis (of the launch),” the ministry said in a statement.
The Pentagon was also looking into the apparent launch, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman said. If the launch was of missiles, it would be the first by the nuclear-armed country since November 2017.
The move was likely to raise tensions as denuclearization talks with the United States remain deadlocked.
It comes just days after North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, a key figure in nuclear negotiations with the United States, warned of an “undesired consequence” for the U.S. if Washington does not adjust its policy on North Korea’s denuclearization by an end-of-the-year deadline Kim has set.
In mid-April, the North Korean leader also oversaw a test of what the country called a new type of “guided tactical weapon.” That and Saturday’s launches appeared to signal that Kim was working to escalate tensions in an attempt to gain leverage with Washington.
The nuclear talks have stalled since the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed in February with no deal on the North’s denuclearization.
While Choe did not elaborate as to what that consequence might mean, it could suggest a resumption of nuclear or missile tests by the North.
Choe said in March that the country was rethinking whether to continue talks with the U.S., adding that Kim would decide soon whether to stay on the track of dialogue and maintain its informal nuclear and missile moratorium.
Around the end of 2017, North Korea informally adopted a freeze on missile flight tests, and in April last year, it declared a “suspension” of nuclear and long-range missile tests.
At a meeting of the North’s rubber-stamp parliament in April, Kim said he is willing to meet with Trump for a third time for nuclear talks — if Washington comes to the table with the “correct posture” — but laid down a year-end deadline “for a bold decision from the U.S.”
Information from AP added