SEOUL / WASHINGTON – North Korea fired two short-range projectiles Tuesday, hours after offering to resume nuclear talks with the United States.
It is North Korea’s tenth round of weapons tests since early May, when Pyongyang resumed launching ballistic missiles following a year-and-a-half hiatus.
The launch suggests North Korea will continue pressuring the United States, even as it hints at returning to negotiations that have been stalled since February.
Late Monday, a senior North Korean diplomat said Pyongyang was willing to “sit face to face” with the U.S. in late September.
It’s not clear if the launch will hurt the chances of those talks. U.S. President Donald Trump has said he has “no problem” with North Korea’s past short-range launches. He has not responded to the latest launch.
The projectiles were fired from the Gaecheon area of South Pyongan Province toward the sea off North Korea’s east coast, according to a statement by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The projectiles traveled about 330 kilometers, the statement said, adding that U.S. and South Korean authorities are analyzing additional details the launch.
South Korea’s military called on the North to “immediately stop” actions that heighten tensions on the Korean peninsula.
U.S. officials say they are aware of the launch and are working closely with allies in the region.
Working-level talks to resume?
Hours before the launch, Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, said Pyongyang is willing to talk with the United States but warned Washington needs to come up with fresh ideas or risks jeopardizing the negotiations.
“We are willing to sit face-to-face with the U.S. around late September at a time and place that we can agree on,” Choe said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
But Choe said the United States has to produce an “acceptable calculation” or risk the end of the talks, apparently a statement aimed at pushing the United States toward making concessions to North Korea, such as on the economic sanctions.
“If the U.S. side fingers again the worn-out scenario which has nothing to do with the new calculation method at the DPRK-U.S. working negotiation to be held with so much effort, the DPRK-U.S. dealings may come to an end,” she said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.
Trump was asked about the offer while speaking to reporters at the White House.
“I just saw it as I’m coming out here, that they would like to meet. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “I always say having meetings is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalemated since a second summit in February between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended abruptly without a deal. Trump rejected Kim’s demand for relief from the debilitating U.S. economic sanctions in return for partial denuclearization.
The two leaders agreed at a short meeting in June at the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea to restart staff level talks, but they have yet to start.
At their first summit more than a year ago in Singapore, Trump and Kim adopted a statement calling for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump returned from Singapore to Washington tweeting, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Sleep well tonight!”
But nothing has occurred since then to indicate that North Korea has been dismantling its nuclear arsenal. To the contrary, a United Nations report last week said the North’s development of nuclear warheads has not stopped.
North Korea has launched a series of missile tests since late July in protest of joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. Trump has dismissed the importance of the tests, but other key U.S. officials have voiced concern that the missiles could be used to attack South Korea and U.S. troops stationed there.
“We’re disappointed that he is continuing to conduct these short-range tests. We wish that he would stop that. But our mission set at the State Department is very clear: to get back to the [negotiating] table,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the ABC News show This Week on Sunday.
A new path?
Kim warned in a New Year’s speech he may take an unspecified “new path” if the United States does not change its approach to the talks. Since then, North Korea has set an end of year deadline and warned it may eventually resume nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests.
Tuesday’s launch is the latest warning that Pyongyang may take the “new path” referenced in Kim’s speech,” according to Kim Dong-yub with Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
“It is intended to send a message to the U.S. that….it can go further next year during the presidential race,” says the analyst Kim.