North Korea yesterday fired missiles for the third time in eight days – a move apparently designed to pile pressure on the US and South Korea.
Pyongyang went ahead with the series of launches despite leader Kim Jong-un agreeing to resume talks on denuclearisation when he met Donald Trump on June 30.
US officials played down the launches and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that conversations were “going on even as we speak”.
South Korea said the latest projectiles appeared to be new short-range ballistic missiles. They flew 220km and hit an altitude of 25km.
US officials said initial information indicated they were similar to two other recent short-range missile tests by Pyongyang.
North Korean state media said Kim oversaw the firing of what they described as a new large-calibre, multiple-launch guided rocket system on Wednesday.
The North Korean leader also observed the launch of a short-range ballistic missile last week.
Analysts said the launches appear intended to put pressure on South Korea and the US to stop planned military exercises later this month and offer other concessions.
Kim’s government is assiduously improving military capabilities as well as signalling negotiating demands with the tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, an international relations expert at Seoul’s Ewha University.
He added one goal was “to normalise North Korea’s sanctions-violating tests as if they were as legitimate as South Korea’s defensive exercises”.
Mr Trump was asked at the White House before he set off for a campaign trip to Ohio if he thought Kim was testing him.
But he insisted the launches did not violate the North Korean leader’s promises. “We never made an agreement on that [short-range missiles]. I have no problem,” he said.
While Mr Trump says he never made an agreement on short-range missiles, the UN Security Council unanimously demanded in 2006 that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.
The Security Council met behind closed doors in New York on Thursday to discuss the latest missile launches.
Foreign ministers attending ASEAN’s East Asia summit of 18 nations in Bangkok expressed concern that the North’s missile tests were having a negative impact on dialogue, according to one Thai foreign ministry official.
After the meeting, representatives of Britain, France and Germany urged North Korea to engage in meaningful talks with the US.
They said international sanctions need to be fully enforced until Pyongyang has dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Mr Pompeo, who was at the summit, said he was disappointed his North Korean counterpart had not attended. “I think it would have given us an opportunity to have another set of conversations,” he said. “I hope it won’t be too long before I have a chance to do that.”
Andrei Lankov, director of Korea Risk Group, a think tank, said the missile tests do not mean Pyongyang is no longer interested in talks.
“On the contrary, the choice of the short-range missile is a sign that, for the time being, Pyongyang remains serious about making a deal,” he said.