North Korea has fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea in its fourth weapons launch this month, South Korea’s military said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North likely fired two short-range ballistic missiles from an area in Sunan, the location of Pyongyang’s international airport, but did not immediately say how far they flew.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the missiles did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to its allies, but highlighted the destabilising impact of the North’s “illicit” weapons program.
Japan’s defence minister Nobuo Kishi said the missiles landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and the chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, condemned North Korea’s actions as threats to peace.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is visiting the United Arab Emirates, instructed officials to make “utmost efforts to ensure stability” on the Korean Peninsula, his office said.
It also said members of the presidential National Security Council stressed the need to revive nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang.
The Monday launch came after the North conducted a pair of flight tests of a purported hypersonic missile on January 5 and January 11 and also test-fired ballistic missiles from a train on Friday in an apparent reprisal over fresh sanctions imposed by the Biden administration last week for its continuing test launches.
North Korea has been ramping up tests in recent months of new missiles designed to overwhelm missile defences in the region.
Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is going back to a tried-and-true technique of pressuring the US and regional neighbours with missile launches and outrageous threats before offering negotiations meant to extract concessions.
A US-led diplomatic push aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected the North’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Mr Kim has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal he clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival, despite the country’s economy suffering major setbacks amid pandemic-related border closures and persistent US-led sanctions.
His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s call to resume dialogue without preconditions, saying that Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy”, a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe sanctions and combined US-South Korea m