WASHINGTON – North Korea fired several unidentified short-range missiles from its eastern coast, the defiant nation’s first launch in more than a year and possibly re-stirring tensions with the U.S.
Both the White House and South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the launches. South Korean media reported the missiles were fired about 9 a.m. local time Saturday from the city of Wonsan. The missiles flew about 125 miles in the direction of the ocean before landing in the water, the joint chiefs said.
Officials are analyzing the situation and details surrounding the type of missiles that were launched, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said late Friday that the White House was “aware of North Korea’s actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary.”
The launch comes less than three months since President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi to negotiate denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The summit, which was the second held between the leaders, ended without any agreement on denuclearization or sanction relief.
The launch would not violate Kim’s self-imposed testing moratorium, which prevented the country from testing intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. But the news is sure to raise tensions between North Korea and the U.S. and is the first missile launch since the North’s November 2017 test of an ICBM.
In March, after North Korean officials threatened to resume testing missiles, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Kim had promised Trump that such tests would not happen.
“In Hanoi, on multiple occasions, he spoke directly to the president and made a commitment that he would not resume nuclear testing nor would he resume missile testing,” Pompeo said. “So that’s Chairman Kim’s word. We have every expectation he will live up to that commitment.”
President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June. (Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
Last month, Kim oversaw the testing of a new “tactical guided weapon.” It was the nation’s first publicly announced weapons test since last year and came amid growing signs that Kim has soured on his negotiations with Trump.
The country’s state-run news outlet KCNA did not specify what kind of weapon the North Koreans tested last month but said the event was “of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power” of the country’s military.
Since the February summit, the country has asked that Pompeo be pulled from negotiations, saying he’d been “talking nonsense” and misrepresenting comments made by Kim.
Harry Kazianis, who works for the conservative think tank National Interest, said the launch made it clear that “North Korea is angry” after February’s summit with Trump, and the administration’s “lack of flexibility” when it comes to sanctions.
“Chairman Kim has decided to remind the world—and specifically the United States—that his weapons capabilities are growing by the day,” Kazianis said. “My fear is that we are at the beginning stages of a slide back to the days of nuclear war threats and personal insults, a dangerous cycle of spiking tensions that must be avoided at all costs.”
In March, North Korea Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui warned that the U.S. threw away a “golden opportunity” when the two countries did not come to an agreement during the February summit and said the country was rethinking its moratorium against missile launches.
“We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation,” Choe said.
At the time, Pompeo downplayed the threat, saying Trump would continue to pursue negotiations with the North Korean leader. Pompeo added that the U.S. expected Kim to live up to his promise to Trump to maintain the moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests and dismissed North Korean demands that he be removed from negotiations.
Just last week, Pompeo reiterated that negotiating with the North could be fruitful and stressed that it would take time.
“There are lots of elements of this. There are many pieces. It’s an enormous challenge for that country to make its shift, too,” Pompeo said in an interview for CBS’ “Intelligence Matters” podcast, noting the country’s history of telling its citizens that nukes “kept them secure.”
“So there’s not just a military strategic decision, but a political strategic decision that we think Chairman Kim is prepared to make,” Pompeo said. “Only time will tell for sure, but I’ve seen enough to believe that there is a real opportunity to fundamentally shift the strategic paradigm on the peninsula there.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY; Associated Press
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