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Leo Byrne is the Data and Analytic Director at NK News and is based in Seoul, South Korea.Follow him on twitter @LeoPByrne
North Korea on Thursday morning local time fired two unidentified projectiles from its eastern coast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported.
“North Korea today (July 25) launched two unidentified projectiles towards the East Sea from the area of Wonsan at 0534 and 0557 local time,” the JCS said.
The flight distance was around 430 kilometers, it continued.
“The South Korean and U.S. authorities are in the process of analyzing the details of the projectiles,” it added.
“Our military is maintaining readiness posture while keeping close tabs on the relevant movement in preparation for an additional launch,” the JCS said.
A senior administration Trump administration official said in a statement they were following the developments.
“We are aware of reports of a short-range projectile launched from North Korea,” they said. “We have no further comment.”
Thursday’s test notable overlaps with a visit to the Korean peninsula by U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for talks with senior South Korean government officials.
The missile was launched from Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast, and landed in the East Sea
The previous test was eventually identified as a short-range ballistic missile, which photos later released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) suggesting the missile was of a new type described by analysts as the “Songun Iskander.”
Thursday’s test appears to have flown a similar distance, suggesting the launch may be of the same missile.
U.S. President Donald Trump and other senior staff in Washington later dismissed the tests, with Trump at the time calling them “some small weapons.”
Washington has repeatedly insisted they did not violate North Korea’s self-declared moratorium on missile and nuclear testing, which the President has repeatedly touted as a major diplomatic victory.
Then-acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan later noted the DPRK’s tests were a violation of UN resolutions.
“The U.S. and ROK reactions to Kim’s May KN-23 tests pretty much indicated testing these kinds of systems was cost-free (despite constituting UNSCR violations),” Ankit Panda, an adjunct fellow at the Federation of American Scientists told NK News.
“My guess is it’s a KN23, but hard to say much else without any other data.”
Thursday’s test also comes amid renewed tensions and a continued diplomatic stalemate between the United States and North Korea.
The DPRK’s foreign ministry last week issued two statements condemning a planned upcoming joint ROK-U.S. military drill, warning that it would withdraw from planned working-level negotiations should the exercise go ahead.
Tuesday saw leader Kim Jong Un reported to have inspected a “newly-built” submarine at an undisclosed location.
The visit, one analyst noted, was the first time since last year’s February 8 military parade that the DPRK leader had inspected a military asset explicitly designed to carry and launch nuclear weapons.
Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News’s sister site NK Pro, said Thursday’s test sees Pyongyang seek to up the pressure on Washington.
“The launches build on a series of signals over the past few months that the North, despite its continued interest in talks with the U.S., was taking a harder line on the U.S.,” Lee said.
“Two foreign ministry pronouncements last week and its coverage of Kim Jong Un’s submarine visit two days ago were carefully calibrated to step up pressure on the U.S. while leaving the door open for talks,” she added.
“North Korean media’s handling of today’s missile launches may lend some more insight into Pyongyang’s future calculations.”
Another expert agreed, stressing that the DPRK appears to have “found a reliable way to send a message to Washington.”
“North Korea is sending a message that they are not going remain idle, that they will not slow maneuvers, and that they are not going to be happy about joint exercises,” Andrei Lankov, director of the Korea Risk Group — which owns and operates NK News — said.
“This might become the standard reaction to American misbehavior.”
The launch could serve as a face-saving exercise for Pyongyang, Lankov argued, allowing it to proceed with working-level talks while registering its displeasure with the upcoming “Dong-Maeng” drill — expected to begin early next month.
“It gives North Korea the idea they even if the joint exercise goes ahead, they did not swallow it, they made a symbolic gesture in response,” he said.
“They are not going to lose face if they keep talking. Because from what I see they badly need talks.”
The U.S., for its part, has said it remains optimistic about prospects for talks and Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying Monday he hoped working-level dialogue with the DPRK will begin “in a couple of weeks.”
Additional reporting by Dagym Ji and Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: File Photo