SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the North’s second weapons test in less than a week.
The missiles were launched from near Wonsan, a coastal town east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the South Korean military said in a brief statement. They flew 155 miles to the northeast, reaching a height of 18 miles, before splashing into the sea, it said.
South Korean officials declined to offer further details, pending analysis of flight and other data together with their United States allies.
“North Korea’s recent series of missile tests does not help efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we urge the North to stop this type of act,” the South Korean military said.
That was the first time South Korea had formally accused the North of testing a ballistic missile since November 2017, when the North launched the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. United Nations resolutions forbid North Korea to launch ballistic missiles of any kind.
Japan said the North Korean projectiles launched Wednesday had not landed in its territorial waters, indicating that they were short-range weapons.
North Korea’s resumption of weapons testing has come amid stalled efforts to resume talks with the United States on ending its nuclear weapons program.
President Trump met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30, and both leaders agreed to resume staff-level dialogue between their governments. But such talks have yet to take place.
Weeks before Mr. Kim met with Mr. Trump in Singapore in June last year in the first-ever summit meeting between North Korea and the United States, Mr. Kim announced a moratorium on his country’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Mr. Trump has since repeatedly touted the absence of such tests as his biggest diplomatic achievement in dealing with Mr. Kim.
With North Korea’s latest tests involving short-range missiles, Mr. Kim did not abandon his moratorium. But they violated the United Nations Security Council resolutions that bar the country from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies, South Korean officials said.
Mr. Trump downplayed the significance of the North’s recent missile tests last Thursday, calling them “smaller ones” and repeating that he was still getting along “very well” with Mr. Kim.
“My relationship with Kim Jong-un is a very good one, as I’m sure you’ve seen,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “I like him; he likes me. We’ll see what happens.”
The Singapore meeting ended with a vague agreement in which Mr. Trump committed to building new relations and providing security guarantees for North Korea in return for Mr. Kim’s agreement to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But when the leaders met again in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, they failed to agree on how to implement their earlier deal.
The Hanoi talks collapsed when Mr. Kim demanded that Washington lift all major sanctions against his country in return for the dismantling of its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. Mr. Trump insisted on a more comprehensive breaking up of the North’s nuclear programs, including its nuclear weapons and missiles.
Mr. Kim has since said he would give Washington until the end of the year to return to the negotiating table with “new calculations.”
“This type of saber rattling is not threatening, but rather is intended to get the attention of North Korea’s more powerful neighbors,” Daniel L. Davis, a senior fellow with the Defense Priorities research institute in Washington, said by email about the Wednesday tests. “Kim Jong-un wants to negotiate and signal his ability to take actions the U.S. and others don’t like in an effort to speed up diplomacy.”
“There’s an opening to negotiate for freezes and potentially rollbacks in exchange for limited sanctions relief,” Mr. Davis added. “But unless Washington is willing to make such trade-offs and normalize relations, expect Kim to continue developing weapons and testing them.”
Nearly two years into his presidency and more than six months after his historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.
That was the essential message of Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s televised speech, where he reiterated that international sanctions must be lifted before North Korea will give up a single weapon, dismantle a single missile site or stop producing nuclear material.
The list of recent North Korean demands was a clear indicator of how the summit meeting in Singapore last June altered the optics of the relationship more than the reality. Those demands were very familiar from past confrontations: that
- all joint military training between the United States and South Korea be stopped, that
- American nuclear and military capability within easy reach of the North be withdrawn, and that
- a peace treaty ending the Korean War be completed.
“It’s fair to say that not much has changed, although we now have more clarity regarding North Korea’s bottom line,’’ Evans J.R. Revere, a veteran American diplomat and former president of the Korea Society, wrote in an email.
“Pyongyang refused to accept the United States’ definition of ‘denuclearization’ in Singapore,’’ he wrote.
To the United States, that means
- the North gives up its entire nuclear arsenal;
in the North’s view, it includes
- a reciprocal pullback of any American ability to threaten it with nuclear weapons. “
The two competing visions of denuclearization have not changed since then.”
Mr. Trump and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who is supposed to turn Mr. Trump’s enthusiasms into diplomatic achievements, dispute such conclusions. They note that the tone of one of the world’s fiercest armed standoffs has improved. It has, and both leaders say they want to meet again.
In a tweet on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Kim’s offers not to produce or proliferate weapons, without mentioning the many caveats. He went on to say that he looked forward “to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”
He swung to the other extreme, declaring after Singapore that the nuclear threat from the North was over — a statement even his most loyal aides have not repeated — and that he and one of the world’s most notorious dictators “fell in love.”
.. By some measures there has been modest progress. It has been 13 months since the North tested a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile, a change that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo cite as the first fruits of what some officials now concede will be a long diplomatic push.
.. But Mr. Trump’s strategic goal, from the moment he vowed to “solve” the North Korea problem rather than repeat the mistakes of past presidents, has been to end the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, not suspend it in place.
The Kremlin reports the long-range, nuclear-capable Russian missile can strike anywhere in the world and easily evade missile defense systems; Lucas Tomlinson reports from the Pentagon.
- iran and
- north korea
If the higher estimate is true, that would mean that North Korea has a bomb almost 17 times the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
.. David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he believes that the Sept. 3 bomb was a “real H-Bomb” — suggesting that North Korea wasn’t lying when it said it had created a two-stage thermonuclear device shortly before this test. If this is true, it shows that North Korea has now mastered the more complicated technology that entered the U.S. and Soviet arsenals in the 1950s after the first wave of nuclear weapons.
.. Such a device dramatically increases the damage that could be inflicted on a city. It also could mean that North Korea’s missile systems can afford to be significantly less accurate when used in a real-life attack because the blast itself would be so much bigger.
.. After failed tests in 2016, North Korea appears to have shut down the Musudan program and replaced it with something better.
.. In just one year, Cotton said, Kim Jong Un has unveiled six new missile systems. In contrast, his father, Kim Jong Il, tested only two new missiles during his time as leader, and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung tested three.
.. North Korea could probably build up to a bigger event: what has been called the “Juche bird,” a test of a missile loaded with a live nuclear weapon, probably above the Pacific Ocean. “A lot of folks in the U.S. have said North Korea still lacks the capability to put it all together,” Cotton said. “North Korea has made several statements suggesting they think they might need to show us once and for all that they do have that capability.”