North Korea launched at least two unidentified projectiles towards the sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, hours after the North offered to resume nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
The North’s projectile launches and demand for new proposals were apparently aimed at pressuring the US to make concessions when the North Korea-US talks resume. North Korea is widely believed to want the US to provide it with security guarantees and extensive relief from US-led sanctions in return for limited denuclearisation steps.
The North Korean projectiles were fired from South Pyongan Province, which surrounds the capital city of Pyongyang, in the direction of the waters off the North’s east coast, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defence Ministry.
The military said South Korea will monitor possible additional launches by North Korea but gave no further details on what projectiles North Korea had fired.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride in Seoul said the authorities had still to confirm the nature of the projectiles, which flew for about 330 kilometres before ditching into the sea.
Tuesday’s launches were the eighth since late July and the first since August 24. The previous seven launches have revealed short-range missile and rocket artillery systems that experts say would potentially expand the country’s ability to attack targets throughout South Korea, including US military bases there.
On Monday night, the North’s First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe Son Hui, said North Korea was willing to resume nuclear diplomacy with the US in late September but that Washington must come to the negotiating table with acceptable new proposals. She said if the proposals did not satisfy North Korea, dealings between the two countries could come to an end.
President Donald Trump called North Korea’s announcement “interesting.”
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “In the meantime, we have our hostages back, we’re getting the remains of our great heroes back and we’ve had no nuclear testing for a long time.”
There was no immediate comment from the White House following reports of the launches.
Talks in limbo
In the late-night statement carried by state media, Choe said North Korea was willing to sit down with the US “for comprehensive discussions in late September of the issues we have so far taken up, at a time and place to be agreed.”
Choe said she hoped the US would bring “a proposal geared to the interests of the DPRK and the US and based on decision methods acceptable to us.” DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
“As far as North Korea is concerned these launches and the dialogue probably go hand-in-hand,” McBride said. “
“This could be a way of North Korea trying to bolster its bargaining position, but it does concern military officials in South Korea, and across the water in Japan, because what we are seeing is more sophisticated missiles being launched. It’s not just a political message. They do seem to be acquiring with each launch more sophisticated military skills.”
Talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament fell apart in February when Trump rejected North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s demand for sweeping sanctions relief in return for partial disarmament at their second summit in Vietnam.
In April, Kim said he was open to another summit with Trump but set the end of the year as a deadline for the US to offer improved terms for an agreement to revive the nuclear diplomacy.
Kim and Trump met again at the Korean border in late June and agreed to restart diplomacy, but there have no public meetings between the sides since then.
In recent months, North Korea has carried out a slew of missile and rocket tests in protest at joint military drills between the US and South Korea that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.
Some experts said the North Korean weapons tests were also a demonstration of its expanding weapons arsenal and aimed at boosting its leverage in advance of new talks with the US.
Many of the latest missiles appear to be new types designed to evade interception by US, South Korean and Japanese missile defence systems.
A Japanese defence ministry official said on Tuesday there was no confirmation of any ballistic missile entering Japan’s territory or exclusive economic zone, adding there was no immediate threat to national security.