SEOUL - North Korea confirmed it fired two short-range rockets Thursday, Pyongyang's 12th such launch this year, as it ramps up pressure on the U.S. ahead of its end-of-year deadline for nuclear talks.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Friday local time the "successful" test of a "super-large" multiple rocket launcher system. Following similar tests this year, U.S. officials categorized the weapon as a short-range ballistic missile.
KCNA says the latest launch was meant to "verify the security of (the) launcher's continuous fire system." It was not overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, KCNA said.
"The perfection of the continuous fire system was verified through the test-fire to totally destroy with super power the group target of the enemy and designated target area by surprise strike of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers," KCNA reported.
The projectiles, which were launched from the Suncheon region of South Pyongan province, flew about 370 kilometers and reached an altitude of about 90 kilometers, South Korea's military said.
The launch comes as North Korea continues to emphasize its end-of-year deadline for the United States to change its approach to stalled nuclear talks. Earlier this week, North Korea warned the U.S. it would be "seriously mistaken" if it ignores the deadline.
North Korea has now launched 12 rounds of missiles since early May, after having refrained from such tests for a year and a half. The launches appear designed at least in part to boost Pyongyang's negotiating leverage.
North Korea earlier this month walked away from working-level negotiations with the United States in Stockholm, blaming the U.S. for failing to bring any new proposals. Pyongyang wants the U.S. to relax sanctions and other pressure.
Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but have failed to make any progress on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official, on Sunday warned the U.S. against using the Trump-Kim relationship as a delaying tactic, cautioning that Pyongyang was running out of patience with Washington.
Pyongyang has warned it could soon resume long-range missile or nuclear tests. Such a move could be a severe setback to nuclear negotiations.
Trump has said he has "no problem" with North Korea's short-range launches, since they cannot reach the United States.
However, North Korea seems intent on gradually testing more advanced weapons. In early October, it tested a medium-range ballistic missile designed to be launched from a submarine.
"Kim's maximum pressure campaign continues," said Vipin Narang, a nuclear and geopolitical expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I'm just glad it's not worse — like an SLV (satellite launch vehicle) or an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)," he added. "I suspect they will give us until the end of the year before they put that batter on deck."
The timing of the latest launch was unusual. Whereas most other tests this year have occurred in the early morning hours, Thursday's launch took place around dusk.
The launch also came just hours after South Korean media reported that Kim sent condolences to South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, whose mother died this week.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency on Wednesday reported the movement of North Korean transporter erector launchers, which are used to fire missiles. It isn't clear if that development was related to Thursday's launch.
North Korea has given varying justifications for its launches this year. Some of the launches, it says, were aimed at sending a warning to South Korea or the United States. Others were simply a test of its military capabilities and should not be seen as a provocation, it insisted.