North Korea again launched ballistic missiles into the sea early Tuesday. The action appeared to be in answer to military exercises involving the United States and South Korea that begin this week. North Korea expressed anger, warning it may take a “new road” because of the exercises.
In a statement, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the western part of the country. The missiles are reported to have traveled about 450 kilometers.
North Korea has launched short-range ballistic missiles four times in less than two weeks. The actions have raised concerns about the possibility of lower-level talks on ending the country’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials had hoped those talks would begin last month, but so far a date has not been set.
Exercises a ‘violation'
Minutes before the latest test, North Korea’s foreign ministry released a statement condemning the military exercises. The statement said the exercises were a “flagrant violation” of its recent agreements with the United States and South Korea.
“We have already warned several times that the joint military exercises would block progress…and bring us into reconsideration of our earlier major steps,” said a North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson. The statement was reported by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
KCNA also reported that the foreign ministry spokesman said North Korea may “seek a new road” as it has “already indicated.”
The U.S. and South Korea on Monday moved ahead with the joint exercises which they say are defensive in nature. At the same time, the two nations asked North Korea to attend lower-level nuclear talks.
In an email to VOA, a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman said the U.S. military will continue training with South Korean forces. He refused to discuss the military exercises, saying he wanted to leave room for “diplomacy to work.”
The U.S. and South Korea have reduced or canceled several planned military exercises since last year. The changes are part of an agreement reached between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A top U.S. defense official spoke to reporters on a military aircraft flying to Tokyo. He said the U.S. would like to see North Korea reduce or cancel some of its military exercises. Some experts, however, say North Korea appears to have no plans to do so.
"So they're going to continue their winter training exercises…and yet, they want us to completely end ours?" asks Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
All of South Korea within reach
A spokesperson for South Korea’s presidential office said an emergency meeting was called to discuss the latest North Korean launch.
Speaking in Tokyo Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the U.S. takes the launchings seriously.
"We monitor them. We try to understand what they’re doing and why. We also need to be careful not to overreact and not to get ourselves in a situation where diplomacy is closed off,” he said.
Intelligence officials say the weapons North Korea launched Tuesday appear similar to the short-range ballistic missiles tested on July 25, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
North Korea on July 25 launched its version of a Russian-made Iskander short-range ballistic missile. It appears to be designed to overcome U.S. and South Korean missile defenses. Since then, North Korea has also tested a new multiple rocket launcher.
Because the missiles traveled a distance of 450 kilometers, it “means that all of South Korean territory is within firing range,” says Kim Dong-yub. He is a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
Trump has said he has “no problem” with North Korea’s recent missile launches because they are short-range. He wants to continue talks with North Korea.
In a series of tweets last week, the president said the missile tests “are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was there discussion of short-range missiles.”
“There may be a United Nations violation, but Chairman Kim (Jong Un) does not want…a violation of trust,” Trump said. “There is far too much for North Korea to gain.”
I’m Susan Shand.
William Gallo reported this story from Seoul for VOA News. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
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Words in this Story
ballistic missile – n. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance and then falls to the ground and explode
flagrant –adj. obvious, not hidden in any way
indicate – v. to say or explain
monitor – v. to watch
multiple – adj. several