SEOUL - North Korea has conducted another ballistic missile launch, violating an apparent promise to U.S. President Donald Trump to refrain from such tests after the conclusion of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
Trump, however, said he did not see the latest North Korean test launches as breaking a promise. Before leaving Washington to attend the G-7 summit, the U.S. leader said North Korean leader “Kim Jong Un has been, you know, pretty straight with me. … He likes testing missiles, but we never restricted short-range missiles.”
Japan's government first reported the launch early Saturday. South Korea's military confirmed the test minutes later, saying North Korea had fired the weapons from South Hamgyong province into the sea off its eastern coast.
The projectiles, assessed to be "short-range ballistic missiles," traveled about 380 kilometers (236 miles), reaching an altitude of 97 kilometers (60 miles) and a speed of Mach 6.5 or higher, according to a statement from South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea and continue to monitor the situation. We are consulting closely with our Japanese and South Korean allies," a senior U.S. official told VOA.
Following an emergency meeting, South Korea's National Security Council voiced "strong concern" that North Korea continues to fire projectiles, despite the end of U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
Return to talks
Earlier this month, Trump said in a tweet that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to stop launching missiles and return to nuclear talks once the latest round of U.S.-South Korean military drills ended, which happened Tuesday.
However, North Korea has not engaged in dialogue, instead criticizing Washington and Seoul for holding the military drills at all.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Thursday warned the U.S. it was "ready for dialogue and confrontation," vowing to be "America's biggest threat" for a long time to come.
Since May, North Korea has rolled out several new weapons systems, including a short-range ballistic missile that appears designed to evade U.S. and South Korean missile defenses.
The missile, dubbed KN-23 by U.S. intelligence officials, flies low and fast. It is also easily transportable, since it uses a mobile truck launcher and solid fuel, which is more stable.
The latest missiles launched by North Korea appeared to have flown much higher than many of those used in its recent tests, which reached an altitude of about 25 to 30 kilometers (15.5 to 18.5 miles).
All the launches appeared to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, which ban North Korea from conducting any ballistic missile activity.
Trump says he has "no problem" with the launches, asserting that they do not violate Kim's promise to refrain from longer-range missile or nuclear tests.
But it may be more difficult for Trump to take that same approach with North Korea's latest launch, which may be characterized as a violation of Kim's promise to Trump.
Critics have said Trump's approach virtually guarantees North Korea will continue testing missiles.
"I see this test as North Korea pushing the envelope as far as they think it could go, seeing what Trump will let slide and thus testing how much Washington wants diplomatic results and creating a new precedent for what Pyongyang can do with impunity," said Mintaro Oba, a former State Department diplomat who focused on Korea.
North Korea's test came two days after South Korea announced it would scrap an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan — a move U.S. officials worry could hurt trilateral security cooperation on issues such as those pertaining to North Korea and China.
By launching missiles Saturday, North Korea "might be pouring salt in the wound between the United States and South Korea after GSOMIA collapsed," Oba said, referring to the name of the intel-sharing pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement.
In a statement, South Korea's military said it was willing to share the latest information on North Korea's launches with Japan, since GSOMIA has not yet expired.
Nuclear talks have been stalled since a February meeting between Trump and Kim ended without a deal. Kim wants the U.S. to relax sanctions and provide security guarantees. Trump says he will not ease sanctions until Kim agrees to give up all his nuclear weapons.
North Korea has given the U.S. an end-of-year deadline to change its approach to the nuclear talks, warning it might soon resume longer-range missile or nuclear tests.