- North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan early Thursday morning, South Korean officials said.
- Experts say this is Pyongyang’s attempt to get the US’s attention after their recent nuclear negotiations reached an impasse.
- North Korea wants the US to provide sanctions relief, while Washington says it would do so only if Pyongyang demonstrates a clear effort to dismantle its nuclear program first.
- Earlier this week Pyongyang’s state media also showed photos of Kim inspecting a suspected nuclear-capable submarine.
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North Korea fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan, the South Korean military said, in what experts say is an attempt to get the US’s attention after unsuccessful nuclear talks.
The regime launched the two as-yet-unidentified, short-range missiles from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan at 5:34 a.m. and 5:37 a.m. local time Thursday, USA Today reported, citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One projectile flew about 430 km (267 miles) and the other about 690 km (428 miles), both landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, South Korean officials said, according to The Associated Press (AP).
Both missiles were fired from mobile launchers, and flew at a maximum height of 50 km (30 miles), one unnamed South Korean official told the AP.
The relatively longer-range missile appeared to be a new design,Reuters reported, citing an unnamed South Korean official.
The missiles fell into the sea just before reaching Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Kyodo News reported, citing an unnamed Japanese government source.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said the test did not impact the country’s national security, Kyodo News said.
North Korea may be trying to get Trump’s attention
Thursday’s test is North Korea’s first projectile launch since its leader Kim Jong Un briefly met US President Donald Trump at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in late June, and Trump became the first serving US president to step foot into North Korea.
Experts say this launch could be Pyongyang’s attempt to get the US’s attention after nuclear talks broke down this February.
The second Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam ended early with no resolution. North Korea wants the US to provide sanctions relief to help revive its economy, while Washington says it would do so only if Pyongyang demonstrates a clear effort to dismantle its nuclear program first.
“North Korea appears to be thinking its diplomacy with the US isn’t proceeding in a way that they want,” Kim Dae-young, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Research Institute for National Security, told the AP.
“So they have fired missiles to get the table to turn in their favour.”
John Bolton, Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, an advocate of a hardline “maximum pressure” policy on Pyongyang, was in Seoul during the missile launch. He has yet to comment publicly.
The fact that the regime fired short-range missiles – rather than long-range ones capable of reaching the US mainland – suggested that North Korea did not mean for the test to be a provocation, simply a warning, the AP noted.
Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korean navy officer, told Reuters that the weapons were not as aggressive as long-range missiles but were “enough to subtly pressure” the US.
Ankit Panda, an international security and defence expert, also tweeted that the apparently new missile would “also really punch up the qualitative opportunity costs of dragging out diplomacy with Kim Jong Un.”
He also added that being able to fly 690 km “gets this missile mighty close to being able to strike” the US Marine Corps Air Station at Iwakuni, which is home to F-35s stealth fighter jets.
690 km gets this missile mighty close to being able to strike the USMC Air Station at Iwakuni, where F-35Bs are based. A more southerly launch point would cover Iwakuni. pic.twitter.com/yZOaAvVVOf
— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) July 25, 2019
Pyongyang is likely upset about the ongoing US-South Korea alliance
“North Korea is clearly upset that the US and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises,” Harry Kazianis, a senior director at the Center for the National Interest think tank, told USA Today.
“We should not be shocked by this move and, in fact, we should have seen it coming,” he added.
South Korea said earlier this week that it would continue to conduct its longstanding joint military exercise with the US, despite Pyongyang’s saying that the war games would jeopardize upcoming nuclear talks with Washington.
Earlier this week North Korean state media showed photos of Kim inspecting a new submarine suspected to be able to carry nuclear warheads.
The regime has long sought to build a missile-carrying submarine and has tested several missiles designed to fire from submarines in the past, but had never been able to build such a vessel due to international sanctions.
Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear attaché, told Reuters: “By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance.”
The regime’s last weapons test took place on May 9, in which it unexpectedly fired various rockets and short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea, in what also appeared to be a warning to the Trump administration to restart talks.
That was the first ballistic missile launch since Pyongyang tested the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in November 2017.
At that point the US and North Korea still had a rocky relationship, with Kim and Trump openly trading barbs in public.
South Korean experts are now working alongside US counterparts to analyse the data from the launch, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said in a Thursday statement, cited by Reuters.
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