SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched several short-range missiles off its coast on Saturday, damping hopes in Washington and South Korea that the country would restrain from provocations to help pave the way for dialogue.
The missiles blasted off from a coastal launching site and flew about 155 miles to the northeast before falling into the sea, the South Korean military said in a statement. Military officials were analyzing data to determine what type of missiles were used, it said.
The launchings occurred in a period of escalating tensions between the government of Kim Jong-un and the Trump administration. American and South Korean forces began twice-yearly war games on Monday aimed at preparing for a possible attack by the North. The games continue until the end of August.
The United States Pacific Command detected and tracked three short-range ballistic missile launchings, according to a spokesman, Cmdr. Dave Benham.
Commander Benham initially said the first and third missiles failed in flight, but he later retracted his statement and instead agreed with the South Korean military that the missiles flew about 155 miles. The second missile appears to have blown up almost immediately, he added.
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the three ballistic missile launches from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” Commander Benham said. “The U.S. Pacific Command determined the three ballistic missile launches from North Korea did not pose a threat to Guam.”
The tests on Saturday were the first by North Korea since it launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month. The last ICBM test, conducted on July 28, demonstrated that the missile had the potential to reach the lower 48 states of the United States, prompting President Trump to threaten to rain down “fire and fury” on the North if the country did not stand down.
The North in turn warned that it would fire four ballistic missiles in a “ring of fire” around Guam, home to major American military bases in the Western Pacific.
But North Korea had refrained from missile launchings and other provocative acts in recent weeks. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson expressed hope on Tuesday that this signaled the North’s readiness for dialogue sometime in the near future.
“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past,” Mr. Tillerson said in a news briefing in Washington on Tuesday.
Mr. Tillerson voiced optimism “that perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future having some dialogue.”
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Also on Tuesday, Mr. Trump reiterated Mr. Tillerson’s message, saying he believed Mr. Kim “is beginning to respect us.”
“Maybe, probably not, but maybe, something positive can come about,” the president said.
In recent weeks, Mr. Tillerson and other American officials, as well as officials in South Korea, including its president, Moon Jae-in, have repeatedly said that North Korea needed to show its good faith by ending provocative threats and suspending missile and nuclear weapons tests.
The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on the country on Aug. 5 in retaliation for the ICBM tests.
Mr. Kim said he would watch the United States a while before deciding whether to approve his military’s plan to lob missiles toward Guam.
The apparent pause in North Korea’s belligerent behavior raised hopes in Seoul and Washington that Mr. Kim’s government might be de-escalating the standoff. North Korea seemed to prove otherwise by resuming its missile tests on Saturday.
But the projectiles fired on Saturday, which South Korea called short-range missiles, did not fly toward Guam; they flew in the other direction, to the northeast.
And the missile tests were not a big surprise, either. North Korea typically labels the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian joint military exercises involving South Korean and American forces as a rehearsal for invasion and has typically responded with missile or other weapons tests.
On – 25 Aug, 2017 By CHOE SANG-HUN