North Korea added insult to injury Friday when, hours after blasting South Korea’s leader as “impudent” and vowing not to meet with Seoul officials, it launched two more “projectiles” into the Sea of Japan.
The launches — the sixth in just over three weeks — were confirmed by Japan and South Korea.
The South Korean military said the two unidentified “short-range projectiles” were fired at around 8:01 and 8:16 a.m. from the eastern coastal county of Tongchon in Kangwon Province. Both flew around 230 kilometers (143 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30 km (18 miles) and a top speed of around Mach 6.1, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Our military is monitoring the situation in case of additional launches while maintaining a readiness posture,” the JCS said, adding that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing the exact type of weapon fired.
The Defense Ministry in Tokyo said the projectiles did not land on Japanese territory or inside the country’s exclusive economic zone and thus did not directly affect its security.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also weighed in on the test.
“We will do all we can to ensure the safety of the people by working closely with the United States, among others,”
A senior Trump administration official told The Japan Times that the U.S. was “aware of reports” of the launches and was continuing to monitor the situation.
“We are consulting closely with our allies in South Korea and Japan,” the official said.
Earlier Friday, Pyongyang rejected a vow by South Korean President Moon Jae-in a day earlier to pursue talks with the North and to bring reunification of the Koreas by 2045, the 100th anniversary of its liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
A spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country blasted Moon over his pledge in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, saying his comments “make the boiled head of a cow provoke a side-splitting laughter.”
The committee is the North’s government agency tasked with managing relationships with the South. The rival Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce rather than a peace treaty.
The unidentified spokesman repeated criticism that ongoing joint U.S.-South Korea drills that began earlier this month are a sign of Seoul’s hostility against the North. Pyongyang views those exercises as a rehearsal for invasion, but Seoul and Washington characterize the drills, which have been scaled down from previous years, as purely defensive.
“The South Korean authorities are snooping about to fish in troubled waters in the future DPRK-U.S. dialogue, dreaming that the phase of dialogue would naturally arrive after the joint military exercises just as the natural change of the time of the year,” the statement said, adding that it was “senseless” to think that inter-Korean dialogue would resume once the military drills with the United States are over.
DPRK is the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“They can clearly see what we feel now, i.e. we have nothing to talk any more with the South Korean authorities nor have any idea to sit with them again,” the spokesman said.
The North has fired a spate of short-range missiles in recent weeks, including weapons designed to penetrate defenses. The missiles fired Friday appeared similar to those launched in recent tests of its KN-23, which appears to be built to avoid detection.
The KN-23 missile is solid-fueled and launched from a truck, meaning it can be easily hidden and rapidly deployed. It flies quickly at low altitudes and is maneuverable, making it easier for the missile to evade radar detection. The North has tested the missile, a modified version of the Russian Iskander, several times over the past three months, despite being subject to U.N. sanctions that bar it from testing any ballistic missile technology.
Moon and Kim have met three times since April last year, pledging cooperation in working toward a peace deal, but little progress has been made to improve dialogue and strengthen exchanges and cooperation.
Moon said in a Liberation Day address Thursday that it was only through his policy of Korean national peace that dialogue with the North was still possible.
“In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken,” Moon said in remarks marking Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.
In the statement issued by North Korea on Friday, the spokesman described Moon as an “impudent guy” who is “overcome with fright” whenever the North conducts weapons tests.
The North spokesman also pointed to the introduction of high-tech weapons, many bought from the United States, labeling Moon as hypocritical for authorizing their purchase amid denuclearization talks.
“He often calls for peace. Then is he going to make an excuse that the drones and fighters being purchased from the U.S. are just for spreading agrochemicals and for circus flights?” the spokesman asked.
“His open talk about ‘dialogue’ between the North and the South under such a situation raises a question as to whether he has proper thinking faculty,” the statement said.
North Korea has repeatedly issued warnings over the combined military exercises, threatening to seek “a new road” if they continue.
The launches 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.
Those talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them made at a June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.
In a letter to Trump last week, Kim also voiced his displeasure with the joint military exercises. Expressing his “small apology for testing the short-range missiles,” Kim told Trump that such saber-rattling will stop when the exercises wrap up, according to the U.S. president.
“North Korea makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust when it interprets restraint as weakness and looks to exploit divisions within South Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Seoul and Washington have held back on further sanctions but Pyongyang tests sanctions-violating missiles,” Easley added. “South Korea and the United States adjusted defensive exercises to increase space for diplomacy, but North Korea demands a full stop to the drills in an effort to degrade alliance readiness, interoperability, and cohesion.”
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