North Korea has fired two projectiles towards its eastern sea, South Korea’s military said, an apparent resumption of weapons tests aimed at ramping up pressure on the US over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons were fired from a region near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
The Joint Chiefs did not immediately confirm whether the weapons were ballistic missiles or rocket artillery, or how far they flew.
Japan’s Defence Ministry said it believed the North Korean weapons were ballistic, but they did not reach Japan’s territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone.
North Korea’s latest launch follows statements of displeasure over the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with Washington and demands that the Trump administration eases sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang.
The North on Sunday said it was running out of patience with the US over what it described as unilateral disarmament demands, and warned that a close personal relationship between the leaders alone would not be enough to prevent nuclear diplomacy from derailing.
In a statement released by state media, senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol said the Trump administration would be “seriously mistaken” if it ignores an end-of-year deadline set by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage nuclear diplomacy.
Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Korea University, said Pyongyang is likely to ramp up weapons demonstrations in coming weeks, which may include more powerful mid-range missiles to increase pressure on Washington ahead of Mr Kim’s deadline.
Earlier this month, the North test-fired an underwater-launched ballistic missile for the first time in three years. The North has also tested new short-range ballistic missile and rocket artillery systems in recent months in what experts saw as an effort to use the standstill in talks to advance its military capabilities while increasing its bargaining power.
Negotiations have faltered after the collapse of a February summit between Mr Kim and President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, where the US rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal towards partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities.
The North responded with intensified testing activity while Mr Kim said he would “wait with patience until the end of the year for the United States to come up with a courageous decision”.
Washington and Pyongyang resumed working-level discussion in Sweden earlier this month, but the meeting broke down amid acrimony, with the North Koreans calling the talks “sickening” and accusing the Americans of maintaining an “old stance and attitude”.
News of the launches came after South Korea said earlier that North Korean leader Mr Kim sent a message of condolence to South Korean President Moon Jae-in over his mother’s recent death.
The two leaders met three times last year and struck a set of deals aimed at easing animosities and boosting exchanges, but in recent months, North Korea has drastically reduced its engagement and diplomatic activities with South Korea, after Seoul failed to resume lucrative joint economic projects held back by US-led U.N. sanctions.
Last week, Mr Kim ordered the destruction of South Korean-built facilities at a long-closed joint tourist project at a North Korean mountain. South Korea later proposed talks but North Korea has insisted they exchange documents to work out details of Mr Kim’s order.