N.Korea tests ballistic missiles amid deadlocked nuclear talks


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

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By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles off its east coast, South Korea’s military said on Wednesday, ratcheting up tensions just days after testing a cruise missile with possible nuclear capabilities.

Pyongyang has been steadily developing its weapons programme amid a standoff over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief. The negotiations have stalled since 2019.

“North Korea fired two unidentified ballistic missiles from its central inland region toward the east coast, and intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting detailed analysis for further information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

The South Korean military has raised its level of surveillance, and is maintaining a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, the JCS added.

Japan’s Coast Guard also reported an object that could be a ballistic missile was fired from North Korea that landed outside it exclusive economic zone.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the missile launch “outrageous”, and strongly condemned the action as a threat to peace and security of the region.

Both Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in would convene sessions of their national security councils to discuss the launches, according to their offices.

Moon office said he was immediately briefed about the ballistic missile tests, North Korea’s first since March this year and a further breach of U.N. sanctions.

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The latest launch came as foreign ministers of South Korea and China were holding talks in Seoul amid concerns over North Korea’s recent cruise missile test and the stalled denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

North Korea said it successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile last weekend, calling it “a strategic weapon of great significance.” Analysts say that weapon could be the country’s first cruise missile with a nuclear capability.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, when asked about the earlier cruise missile tests, said all parties should work to promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

“Not only North Korea but other countries are carrying out military activity,” he told reporters. “All of us should make efforts in a way that helps resume dialogue.”

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