N Korea tests more missiles despite diplomacy at work

SEOUL, July 31 

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, only days after it launched two similar missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.

The firings follow launches on July 25, North Korea’s first missile tests since leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump met on June 30 and agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks.

The series of missile tests raises the stakes for US and South Korean diplomats criss-crossing the region this week in the hope of restarting talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

“North Korea’s actions do not help ease military tensions, nor do they help keep the momentum for talks that are under way,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in Seoul.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top US North Korea negotiator were also headed to the ASEAN Regional Forum in the Thai capital, where Pompeo said he was holding out hope that US officials could meet North Korean counterparts.

Trump and Pompeo both played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.

The latest launch comes ahead of newly appointed US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper’s first official visit to Seoul, which the Pentagon said was scheduled as part of a tour through Asia in August. 

Trump and Kim met on June 30 in the DMZ between the two Koreas but Pyongyang has since accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea next month and warned the drills could derail talks. Later on Wednesday, state news agency KCNA repeated calls for the US and South Korea to end their “hostile” joint drills, but did not mention the missile launches. — Reuters

Designed to evade defence systems

  • Wednesday’s launches were from the Wonsan area on North Korea’s east coast, from which last week’s missiles had been fired, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said
  • The missiles, dubbed the KN-23, are designed to evade missile defence systems by being easier to hide, launch, and manoeuvre in flight, experts said
  • Kim described the two KN-23s launched last week as having a “low-altitude gliding and leaping flight” pattern that would make them hard to intercept