North Korea fires pair of cruise missiles while South calls for dialogue

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SEOUL, Aug. 17 (UPI) — North Korea fired a pair of cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea Wednesday, Seoul said, while South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called for a “meaningful dialogue” and repeated his offer of economic assistance.

Pyongyang conducted the missile launch early in the morning, a defense official told local media in a back briefing that was later confirmed by the defense ministry. No details were given on the specific type of missiles fired or how far they traveled.

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The weapons test came just hours ahead of a press conference marking Yoon’s first 100 days in office.

The South Korean president echoed the “audacious” offer he made Monday to provide wide-ranging economic aid to North Korea if it agrees to abandon its nuclear arsenal.

On Wednesday, Yoon clarified the roadmap for his plan, saying he was not calling on Pyongyang to completely disarm before assistance would come.

“It is not that you should first denuclearize and then we will do something … my message is that it has to be a phased approach and as the phases go by, we can support accordingly,” Yoon said. “Based on this, we can have a meaningful dialogue going forward.”

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Yoon added that he could not provide a security guarantee to Pyongyang but said that his government does not want to see a “forceful regime change in North Korea.”

“What we want to see is a sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula and a diplomatic way forward,” he said.

North Korea’s latest launch, its record 19th round of weapons tests this year, also comes less than a week before the United States and South Korea resume full-scale joint military exercises for the first time in nearly five years.

Ulchi Freedom Shield, slated for Aug. 22-Sept. 1, will combine computer simulation-based command post training, field maneuvers and civil contingency drills.

Seoul and Washington scaled back their joint drills in 2018 during a period of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang under the administrations of U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

North Korea has long slammed the exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion and frequently reacts with a provocation of its own.

In a speech last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was ready to use his nuclear arsenal against Seoul and Washington and condemned their “hostile acts.”

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“We are listening to the reckless remarks of the South Korean military thugs and we are keeping a close eye on all noteworthy military actions with the United States,” Kim said.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Yoon rejected the idea of South Korea acquiring its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the North.

“I believe that the [Non-Proliferation Treaty] is very critical and essential for securing permanent peace in the world,” he said.