Updated Aug. 1, 2019, 10:22 p.m.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North Korea launched a fresh round of short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast early Friday, U.S. and South Korean officials say. It is the third such launch in just more than a week.
The North launched two projectiles around 3 a.m. local time from South Hamgyong province, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The projectiles traveled an estimated 220 kilometers, reaching an altitude of 25 kilometers, it later added.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials assess the projectile is likely a “short-range ballistic missile” that shares flight characteristics with other recent North Korean launches, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement to reporters.
The Friday launch was first reported by U.S. officials, who said the weapons appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles that did not threaten North America.
North Korea has test-fired at least six short-range weapons over the past eight days, an apparent attempt to increase leverage over the United States ahead of possible nuclear talks.
Last week’s launch involved North Korea’s version of a Russian Iskander ballistic missile, which appears specially designed to evade U.S. and South Korean missile defenses.
On Wednesday, North Korea tested what it called a “newly developed large-caliber, multiple launch, guided rocket system.” U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials say they see the test as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from any ballistic missile activity.
“We are concerned by the launches of ballistic missiles by North Korea in the past few days,” said Karen Pierce, Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations following a closed-door Security Council meeting to discuss the matter Thursday.
“We reiterate our condemnation of such launches, which are violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” said Pierce, who spoke on behalf of Britain, France and Germany.
That statement is a strong contrast to the approach of U.S. President Donald Trump, who on Thursday dismissed the tests as “short-range missiles.”
“We never made an agreement on that. I have no problem,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens, but these are short-range missiles. They’re very standard.”
U.S. officials say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally promised Trump not to conduct longer-range missile or nuclear tests.
Kim in 2018 declared a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests, but that promise hasn’t been included in any public documents that have come out of Trump and Kim’s three meetings.
Trump, who wants to continue talks with North Korea, is playing down North Korea’s short-range launches. The talks have been stalled since a February Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended without a deal.
At the end of June, Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. White House officials described the meeting as a breakthrough, saying North Korea had agreed to resume working-level talks.
But since then, North Korea has gradually ramped up its threats and provocations, saying it may not engage in talks if the U.S. and South Korea go ahead with planned joint military exercises.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Thailand for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), says he remains willing to talk with North Korean officials but that a meeting in Bangkok is unlikely.
“We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans,” Pompeo said Thursday. “I regret that it looks like I’m not going to have an opportunity to do that while I’m here … but we’re ready to go.”
Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers are expressing more skepticism about Trump’s approach to North Korea.
“The Trump administration should recognize that every new missile launch by North Korea is yet another play from the same old Kim family playbook,” said Senator Edward Markey, ranking member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.
“Not only has President Trump failed to codify in writing a nuclear and missile testing freeze, but when he says he has ‘no problem’ with shorter range missile launches, he gives North Korea a green light to violate UN Security Council resolutions and threaten our allies,” Markey said.