North Korea fired two short-range missiles Thursday, an act of defiance that marks the country’s second test launch of weapons in less than a week.
North Korea launched a short-range missile from the country’s northwest Kusong region at 4:29 p.m. and then another short-range missile at 4:49 p.m., South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. Both missiles flew east over the Korean Peninsula, with the first one traveling 420 kilometers (260 miles) and falling into the sea, the joint chiefs said. The second flew 270 kilometers and also fell into the water.
The tests follow increasingly impatient demands for sanctions concessions from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the wake of his failed February nuclear summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Adding to the diplomatic pressure was the presence of the U.S.’s top nuclear envoy, Stephen Biegun, who was in Seoul meeting with South Korean officials Thursday.
The launches come six days after Kim supervised a military exercise in which he fired off several projectiles, including what non-proliferation experts believed was a short-range ballistic missile. While South Korean officials had played down the earlier tests, saying they were not a provocation, President Moon Jae-in was more critical to Thursday’s launches.
The return to missile testing after a lull of 17 months challenges Trump’s decision to continue talks with Kim, since the U.S. president has often cited the lack of such provocations as evidence his approach was working. North Korea, which has often complained about U.S. and South Korean joint military drills, called Saturday’s test a “reasonable strike drill” for its combat readiness.
“Since the U.S. response [has been] low-key, North Korea appears to think that this level of test would not cause problems and it can continue the tests,” said Jina Kim, a research fellow at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.