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North Korea launches more short-range projectiles

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North Korea launched another batch of short-range projectiles on Friday, according to the South Korean military, in a provocative military action that comes after it tested four short-range ballistic missiles over the past week. 

The South Korean military said North Korea fired the projectiles in the early hours of Friday from its east coast, according to Yonhap news agency. A senior US official said Trump administration officials were aware of the reports and would “monitor the situation and are consulting closely with our South Korean and Japanese allies”. 

The launch of the projectiles — which have yet to be identified — marks just the latest escalation by Pyongyang in recent days. The tests have reinforced criticisms from some experts that Donald Trump is being hoodwinked by Kim Jong Un, the young North Korean dictator who in June held his third summit with the US president.

Mr Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, downplayed the latest tests. “Short-range missiles, we never made an agreement on that. I have no problem. We’ll see what happens, but these are short-range missiles, they’re very standard,” he said.

The provocations also come amid a crisis between Tokyo and Seoul that has frustrated the US because of the need for co-operation between the allies to tackle the North Korean threat. Japan on Friday plans to take South Korea off a list of nations that do not require licenses to import certain chemicals and electronic components. 

The North Korean tests of short-range missiles — which began in May after a hiatus since 2017 — have complicated the situation for Mr Trump who insists his “friend” Kim Jong Un is fully committed to fulfilling the pledge to abandon his nuclear programme that he made at their first summit in Singapore a year ago. Mr Trump has downplayed the tests while stressing that Mr Kim has not tested long-range ballistic missiles.

 “Trump gave Kim Jong Un a free pass on all provocations except ICBMs and nuke tests. So Kim is perfecting short-range strike, solid fuel guidance systems while also building leverage if there is a negotiation,” said Victor Cha. Mr Cha was chosen by Mr Trump to be ambassador to Seoul before being taken out of consideration because he objected to proposals from some officials to hit North Korea with a pre-emptive military strike. 

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“Meanwhile, our allies will escalate a crisis when Japan delists South Korea today. How is this a successful US policy?” Mr Cha added. 

Jung Pak, a former CIA expert on Kim Jong Un, said North Korea’s recent actions and statements were “an attempt to manufacture tension in a calibrated way” to increase pressure on the US to return to the negotiating table with better terms from the North Korean perspective. She said it was likely to be a “bumpy August’ given the scheduled US-South Korea military exercises later this month.

“All the parties in the region have been willing to make excuses for North Korea in effort to preserve the mood for dialogue, but there are likely to be fissures if North Korea decides to test missiles that fly over Japan or land in Japan’s territorial waters,” said Ms Pak, now at the Brookings Institution.

Earlier this week, North Korea said the tests were designed to send a “solemn” message to South Korea ahead of scheduled military exercises with the US. The launches come as Mark Esper, the newly installed US defence secretary, prepares to travel to South Korea on his first visit to the region since being confirmed in the role. 

North Korea started testing short-range missiles in May for the first time since late 2017. It was seen as an effort to raise pressure on the US following the collapse of talks between Mr Trump and Mr Kim when they held a second summit in February in Hanoi.

The two leaders met again a month ago after Mr Trump issued a last-minute invitation over Twitter to meet in the demilitarised zone that divides the Korean peninsula. The tweet caught both Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, and John Bolton, US national security adviser by surprise, according to two people familiar with the situation. 

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Mr Pompeo, who is overseeing the nuclear talks, has played down the missile tests and suggested North Korea was just trying to create leverage for any negotiations. Mr Bolton, who is more hawkish on North Korea, said in May the tests contravened UN sanctions that prohibit Pyongyang from conducting ballistic missile launches.

Follow Demetri on Twitter: @dimi

Via Financial Times

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