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North Korea launches more missiles — that’s 7 weapons tests in a month

North Korea launches more missiles — that’s 7 weapons tests in a month
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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles Saturday, two days after South Korea decided to pull out of a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan.

The missiles were launched from Sondeok near the North’s eastern coast and flew 235 miles, the South Korean military said in a brief statement. It was the seventh time North Korea had tested short-range ballistic missiles or other projectiles since late last month.

South Korean defence officials provided no further details on the latest launch, adding that they were analyzing data acquired through radar and other intelligence-gathering equipment.

This picture taken on August 24, 2019 and released on August 25 by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) celebrating the test-firing of a ‘newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher’ at an undisclosed location. KCNA via KNS / AFP

The tests came after South Korea decided on Thursday to terminate an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan under which the two key allies of the United States had shared tracking data on missiles fired by the North. The South’s decision to abandon the agreement takes effect in 90 days.

On Saturday, Japan requested South Korean intelligence on the North’s latest launch, and the South planned to comply because the information-sharing arrangement was still in effect, the South Korean military said. Japan said the missiles had landed well outside its territorial waters and posed no immediate threat to its security.

South Korea decided to pull out of the deal, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, in retaliation against a series of trade restrictions Japan has imposed since early July, including the removal of South Korea from its list of countries favoured with preferential trade treatment.

The United States expressed “strong concern and disappointment” about the South Korean decision.

Seoul and Tokyo signed the agreement in late 2016 after years of urging from Washington, which wanted its two key Asian allies to work more closely to confront North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile threats and China’s growing influence in the region.

The information-sharing pact was part of Washington’s broader effort to ensure that the United States and its two allies responded more quickly and efficiently to regional threats by sharing information seamlessly. Its importance has been highlighted by North Korea’s recent series of launches.

Officials in Washington have expressed concern about the growing rupture between Japan and South Korea, worried that the end of the intelligence-sharing deal would send the wrong signal to China and North Korea, which have long sought to undermine American influence in the region.

Without the agreement, Tokyo and Seoul will have to exchange sensitive military intelligence through Washington, which has separate intelligence-sharing deals with both nations. But such an arrangement could slow the information-sharing at critical moments, like immediately after a North Korean missile launch, analysts said.

When North Korea’s recent series of launches began in late July — involving what South Korean officials characterize as two new types of short-range ballistic missile, as well as a new guided multiple-tube rocket launcher — it blamed South Korea and the United States, for carrying out joint military exercises to which the North strongly objects.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during family photo session at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France August 25, 2019. Christian Hartmann / Reuters

President Donald Trump has shrugged off the recent launches, calling them “smaller ones.”

Speaking to reporters Friday night as he left the White House for the Group of 7 meeting of industrialized nations, Trump said the tests did nothing to complicate his relationship with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, or his hopes for denuclearization talks.

“He likes testing missiles,” Trump said. “But we never restricted short-range missiles. Many nations test those missiles.”

The president said that the United States had recently “tested a very big one.”

Earlier this month, he said Kim had sent him a letter that included a “small apology” for the tests, and which said the North wanted to begin a dialogue with Washington as soon as the joint military drills were over.

The drill ended Tuesday, but North Korea has continued to express displeasure toward the United States. On Friday, its foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “die-hard toxin of the U.S. diplomacy,” according to a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it still thinks of standing in confrontation with the DPRK with sanctions, not dropping its confrontational stand

Ri’s statement came days after Pompeo said Washington would maintain strong sanctions until the North was denuclearized.

“The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it still thinks of standing in confrontation with the DPRK with sanctions, not dropping its confrontational stand,” Ri said, using the abbreviation for the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We are ready for both dialogue and standoff,” he said.

The office of South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, expressed “strong concern” Saturday that the North had carried out another launch even though the joint military exercises ended earlier this week. “We urge the North to stop activities that raise military tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement read.

Trump and Kim met in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February in hopes of moving denuclearization talks forward. But the meeting ended without an agreement after Trump rejected Kim’s proposal to dismantle a single North Korean nuclear complex in return for the lifting of key United Nations sanctions.

Trump insisted on a broader and quicker elimination of the North’s entire weapons of mass destruction programs, including its nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles.

Kim and Trump met again briefly on the inter-Korean border in late June. Trump said then that he and Kim had agreed to resume staff-level dialogue in a few weeks, but such talks have yet to begin.

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