North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) described the missiles as “a strategic weapon of great significance” which had flown 1,500 km (930 miles) before hitting their targets and falling into the country’s territorial waters during the tests on Saturday and Sunday. And Sung Kim, the US special envoy for North Korea, subsequently admitted his concern, saying: “The recent developments in the DPRK are a reminder of the importance of close communication and cooperation from the three countries.”
The three countries are discussing ways to break a standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have prompted international sanctions.
In a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Takehiro Funakoshi and South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk, Sung Kim insisted Washington was open to diplomacy to deal with North Korea issues.
The White House has said the US was still willing to engage with Pyongyang despite the latest test, but US President Joe Biden’s administration has so far shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
Pyongyang has said it detects no sign of a policy change from the United States, citing ongoing sanctions as well as joint military drills with South Korea, which it believes to be prepared for an attack.
While Washington is a close military and economic ally of both Japan and South Korea, ties between the Asian neighbours have often been strained over issues including sovereignty disputes, Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean peninsula, and their wartime history.
North Korea’s cruise missiles generally generate less interest than ballistic missiles because they are not explicitly banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions.
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The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) said the activity highlighted North Korea’s “continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that it poses to its neighbours and the international community.”
Commenting at the United Nations in New York, US spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “We’ve seen these reports, and I think it’s yet another reminder that diplomatic engagement is the only way to reach sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.”
The test comes just weeks after the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) said North Korea appeared to have restarted its nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon facility, which is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons, describing the development as “deeply troubling”.
Dutch MEP Michiel Hoogeveen, who represents JA21 in the European Parliament was likewise concerned,
He told Express.co.uk: “It shows the rapprochement policies of Trump are now something of the past.
“At the negotiations between North Korea and the Trump administration in Hanoi, Yongbyon – the heart of NK’s nuclear programme – was an obstacle.”
He added: “Trump’s North Korea policy was far from perfect (as we have seen from the personal Kim-Trump letters recently published).
“But at least there was the prospect of future negotiations, and the North Koreans upheld their moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing. With Biden, we are no longer sure.”
Mr Hoogeveen warned: “I think not only the restart of the nuclear power reactor is a worrying development, but the entire situation on the Korean Peninsula is deteriorating since Biden took office.
“Yongbyon restarting, military exercises and a lack of dialogue can contribute to a situation as seen in 2017. Increasing the risk of (accidental) military escalations.”
A series of North Korean missile tests in 2017 raised tensions dramatically, while estimates of the nation’s current nuclear arsenal ranging between 15 and 60 weapons, probably including hydrogen bombs.