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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Updated at 1500/1930 KST: This article has been updated to include more details on Thursday’s launch.
North Korea is believed to have fired two “new-type” short-range ballistic missiles off its coast on Thursday morning, South Korea’s presidential National Security Office (NSO) said in a follow-up assessment to a reported test earlier in the day.
South Korean director of the presidential NSO Chung Eui-yong convened a regular meeting of the standing committee Thursday afternoon where the missile tests were discussed along with other topics.
“The Standing Committee of the National Security Council analyzed that the projectiles launched by North Korea this morning were new-type ballistic missiles,” the Blue House said in a written statement.
“The Committee will make their final judgment after a detailed ROK-U.S. joint assessment.”
The standing committee members also “expressed strong concerns” over missile test launches as “such acts do not help efforts to alleviate military tensions on the Korean peninsula.”
The ROK JCS early on Thursday reported that Pyongyang had launched two short-range missiles from a location in the vicinity of Wonsan city at 0534 and 0557 local time, but declined to confirm if the North had launched ballistic missiles.
“Our assessment is that the two unidentified projectiles that North Korea fired today are short-range missiles,” an official at the JCS who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to media following an analysis by the U.S.
“Both flew at an altitude of around 50 kilometers and fell into the East Sea.”
One missile flew around 430 kilometers, they continued, with the other later reportedly traveled even further.
“Among the two short-range missiles North Korea fired off today, we assessed that the second traveled around 690 kilometers,” an official at the JCS said, adding that it “appears to be a new type of missile.”
Following these comments, Yonhap News Agency later in the day reported that additional analysis is required to confirm that the two missiles were the same type, citing an unnamed military official.
“The first-launched missile appears to be new, and the second one is presumed to be a new type of missile,” the official said.
The updated assessment came in the afternoon after the South Korea Ministry of National Defense (MND) Thursday morning was not able to confirm if the North had tested ballistic missiles.
Spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo stressed that the “ROK and the U.S. military authorities are conducting a precise analysis sharing detailed information” during a regular briefing.
The launch of the two short-range missiles, she said, was considered a “military threat” and jeopardized efforts towards the “alleviation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.” But the South Korean military has no plan to take further measures.
“We urge North Korea to stop actions which do not help efforts to alleviate military tensions on the Korean peninsula,” the MND spokesperson said.
Asked if the launches represented a violation of last year’s inter-Korean military agreement, Choi said she would “not comment on specific clauses, but it runs against the intent.”
Spokesperson Choi also said the “government has been keeping close tabs on the relevant movement.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had recently made a public appearance in the vicinity of Wonsan city, Choi said — a likely reference to a submarine factory visit earlier in the week — adding that the ROK military had been keeping a close eye on the area.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in did not preside over the NSO meeting in response to the missile tests, though deputy presidential spokesperson Han Jung-woo told media the Blue House is “managing the situation through the crisis management center at the National Security Office.”
Moon was briefed by the NSO “immediately” after the missile tests, Kim said, adding a “swift response system among related ministries” is in operation.
Thursday’s test-launch came 78 days after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) on May 9 from the country’s North Pyongan Province — the two SRBMs flew around 420 and 270 kilometers.
Just a few days prior, the North launched what experts largely agreed was a SRBM from North Korea’s Hodo peninsula on the east coast.
Thursday’s test, notably, comes after two statements by the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) last week warning the U.S. and South Korea against going ahead with the planned “Dong-Maeng” joint military exercise.
It also follows a strongly-worded statement from Pyongyang earlier in the month condemning Seoul’s decision to acquire a number of new stealth jets from the U.S. and deploy them on the peninsula.
“We will… have no other choice but to develop and test… special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in South Korea,” an unnamed director at the MFA’s Institute for American Studies said.
Kim Dong-yub, Director of Research at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, pointed to the significance of the missile test in the context of these recent developments.
“North Korea is also in summer military training period, and therefore it would be better to open its military training with something which can deliver a clear message, both internally and externally,” Kim told NK News.
“Given that the ROK-U.S. joint military drills will be staged soon, there is also a justification for these tit-for-tat measures,” he added.
“As President Trump said it was ‘standard stuff’ following the test-launches in May, my view is that North Korea can furtively put pressure on the U.S. without spoiling the atmosphere for dialogue.”
Before Seoul made announcement experts presumed that the two missiles fired today are likely to be the previously-tested “KN-23” missiles considering the flight distances and altitude.
That missile — dubbed the “Songun Iskander” by NK Pro contributing analyst Ankit Panda, first appeared at North Korea’s February 8 military parade last year.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA