SEOUL, Sept. 16 (UPI) — North Korea confirmed on Thursday that it has indeed launched a pair of ballistic missiles from a train-based system, which was part of a flurry of activity in a week that also saw South Korea unveil missiles of its own.
South Korean and Japanese defense officials first announced the missile tests on Wednesday, but Pyongyang did not immediately confirm. The missiles landed inside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Tokyo’s defense ministry said late Wednesday, correcting an earlier report.
The test marked the first time Pyongyang used the mobile railway system, a report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency said, and the missiles accurately struck their targets in the sea between Korea and Japan.
“The railway-borne missile regiment took part in the drill with a mission to strike the target area [about 500 miles] away from its location,” KCNA reported.
U.S. officials condemned the launches, saying they’re a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“We do condemn the [North Korean] missile launches,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a press briefing. “We know that they pose a threat to … neighbors and other members of the international community.”
The ballistic missile tests came just days after North Korea fired new long-range cruise missiles, which analysts believe may be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Hours after the North Korean launches on Wednesday, South Korea unveiled its own new military hardware — four missiles, including a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a supersonic cruise missile.
President Moon Jae-in, who witnessed the launches, said the tests were already scheduled and were not a response to North Korea’s launch. Moon added, however, that the weapons demonstrate Seoul’s increasing military strength and send a message to Pyongyang.
“Our increased missile power can be a definite deterrent to North Korea’s provocations,” Moon said Wednesday. “The success of today’s missile power launch tests has shown that we have sufficient deterrence to respond to North Korean provocations at any time.”
South Korea is the seventh country in the world — and the only one without nuclear weapons — to develop its own submarine-launched ballistic missile. North Korea has announced its own SLBM, but there has been no clear evidence that it’s operational.
“We express very great regret over his thoughtless utterance of the word ‘provocation,’ which might be fitting for hack journalists,” she said, according to KCNA. “What we did is part of normal and self-defensive action.”
The missile tests this week came during a burst of diplomatic activity in the region. The United States’ top North Korea envoy, Sung Kim, held a trilateral meeting in Tokyo with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on Tuesday, while Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul on Wednesday for talks with Moon and senior officials.
Analysts said North Korea’s missile launches were timed with the diplomatic visits to grab international attention and potentially send a jolt into negotiations with the United States that have been mired in stalemate for more than two years.
Pyongyang “wants to change the course that the United States is taking right now in dealing with the North Korea issue,” Jung Kim, an assistant professor at the University of North Korean studies in Seoul, told UPI.
“One of the clear messages that Washington is sending is that it will not make any first-move concessions to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table,” he added. “North Korea is trying to change that default state by demonstrating a credible threat.”
Jung Kim said, however, that the latest provocations may not be seen as significant enough to impact Washington’s approach, leaving North Korea to walk a fine line.
“There is a dilemma for North Korea,” he said. “If they cross a red line, like an ICBM test or a nuclear test, that may instead provoke a counter-productive response.”
On Tuesday, ahead of the ballistic missile launches, Sung Kim said the United States “continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue” and remains open to meeting without preconditions.