SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles Thursday, the South Korean military said, an escalation from the North's most recent weapons test just five days earlier.
The two missiles were launched eastward from the country's northwest, with one flying 260 miles and the other about 170 miles, the military said in a statement. It said officials from the South and the United States were jointly analyzing flight data to determine what type of missiles they were.
"Our military has stepped up our surveillance and monitoring in preparation for possible additional launches by North Korea," the statement said. "We remain fully prepared in close coordination with the United States." The statement did not say where the missiles had landed, but the reported distances would put them in the sea between North Korea and Japan.
North Korea's actions vaulted its long-standing grievances with the United States over the North's missile and nuclear programs into a more tense confrontation, despite pledges of goodwill by President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.
North Korea's state-run media said leader Kim helped guide the firing of the missiles. The Korean Central News Agency said that "at the command post Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un learned about a plan of the strike drill of various long-range strike means and gave an order of start of the drill."
The North Korean missile launch came five days after the North fired several short-range projectiles off its east coast. They flew 43 to 125 miles before landing in the sea, the South Korean military said then in a statement.
Japan said Thursday that the two missiles had not landed in its territorial waters. "At the moment, we don't see any situation that would immediately impact on Japan's security," its Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The South Korean military first said the missiles were fired from Sino-ri, home to a North Korean ballistic missile base. But it later amended that, saying they had been launched from Kusong, a town north of Sino-ri.
North Korea has frequently launched missiles from Kusong, including its first solid-fuel midrange ballistic missile, known as Pukguksong-2, which it launched from there in February 2017. The Pukguksong-2 test was a major leap forward for the North because the missile used solid fuel, which makes it easier to hide, transport and launch and harder for the United States to target in a pre-emptive strike.
Although the weapons tested recently stopped short of breaching Kim's pledge to refrain from launching longer-range missiles that could threaten U.S. territory, they violate United Nations resolutions banning North Korea from firing off ballistic missiles of any kind.
Trump said he's not happy about North Korea's recent military tests. Trump told reporters Thursday at the White House that "we're looking" at the situation "very seriously right now."
He said the weapons are smaller, short-range missiles, but adds: "Nobody's happy about it."
Trump, who has met with Kim twice now, said: "I don't think they're ready to negotiate."
South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to refrain from actions that could impede diplomacy.
"I want to warn to the North that if this type of act is repeated, it can jeopardize efforts to promote dialogue and negotiations," he said.
Hours after the weapons test, the United States announced that it had seized a North Korean shipping vessel that American officials said had been flouting sanctions by carrying banned coal exports. The Justice Department said the seizure of the vessel, the Wise Honest, was the first time the United States had impounded a North Korean cargo vessel for sanctions violations.
"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in announcing the seizure.
The 17,601-ton, single-hull bulk carrier ship is one of North Korea's largest, and U.S. authorities said it was part of a network of North Korean vessels illicitly shipping coal from that country and taking back heavy machinery in violation of United Nations and United States sanctions.
Last year, Indonesian authorities stopped the ship on suspicion of violating sanctions. More recently, Indonesian authorities allowed the ship to offload its coal cargo onto another vessel, which departed for Malaysia.
"That was something that was not in our control," said Demers, who added that the U.S. would like to seize other ships North Korea used to violate sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in 2017, banning North Korea from exporting coal.
MATTER OF TIMING
The North's launches come about two months after Kim met for the second time with Trump, hoping to win relief from punishing sanctions in return for a partial dismantlement of his country's nuclear weapons program.
But that meeting, in Hanoi, Vietnam, collapsed after Trump refused to lift sanctions until North Korea relinquished all of its nuclear weapons. Kim had wanted the most punishing sanctions lifted in exchange for only a partial dismantlement of its nuclear program.
When the missiles were launched Thursday, Stephen Biegun, Trump's point man on North Korea, was in South Korea for talks on how to bring the North back to negotiations. Biegun had been expected to discuss food aid that South Korea plans to provide to the North as an incentive.
A North Korea expert in Seoul, Lee Byong-chul, said the timing was no coincidence. "With this launching, North Korea is making clear that it is demanding more than the mere humanitarian food aid South Korea and the United States are discussing," said Lee, of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.
The launch also came as the United States and China are in last-ditch talks aimed at avoiding an escalation in their trade war, and it could represent an attempt by North Korea to increase its leverage with both powers.
The North's weapons tests in recent days have been the most serious since the country launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.
The test Saturday was largely seen as an attempt to increase pressure on Washington to return to talks with a more flexible proposal after the breakdown of the summit meeting in Hanoi. North Korean and American officials have since been unable to resume negotiations.
The choice to launch short-range projectiles Saturday suggested that Kim had not given up hope on resuming negotiations, analysts said then. Trump has repeatedly cited Kim's moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests as a reason to continue talks with North Korea.
North Korea is "incrementally increasing the magnitude of the tests to try to increase the momentum" of any future diplomatic talks, Michael Bosack, a special adviser for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies in Japan, said after the launches Thursday.
With the United States still indicating that it is willing to continue talks, Kim is "posturing for what's going to happen when they get there," Bosack said. "The U.S. has not said, 'If you keep doing this we're cutting off talks.' Even after this last test this past weekend, the response from the U.S. was, 'We still want to talk,' so this is to generate urgency and improve his position at the negotiating table."
After the launches on Saturday, Trump said on Twitter that Kim "knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!"
One of the projectiles the North launched Saturday appeared to be the Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missile, which can make course corrections during its flight, making it difficult to shoot down with ballistic-missile defenses, according to missile experts.
Michael Elleman, interim director of the Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korea might have imported the missile directly from Moscow or through a third party.
"Regardless of the origins of North Korea's newest short-range ballistic missile, its appearance and testing provide convincing evidence that Pyongyang continues to seek greater military and strategic capabilities," Elleman wrote in a paper posted this week on 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea. "If little progress is made in the negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang in the near to mid-term future, expect to see the unveiling of more, increasingly capable strategic weapons and capabilities."
Information for this article was contributed by Choe Sang-hun of The New York Times; by Devlin Barrett and Simon Denyer of The Washington Post; by Youkyung Lee, Shinhye Kang and Jihye Lee of Bloomberg News; and by Kim Tong-Hyung, Hyung-Jin Kim, Foster Klug and Jamie Keaten of The Associated Press.
A Section on 05/10/2019
Print Headline: N. Korea fires 2 missiles, its second launch in week