North Korea on Tuesday fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea, Seoul and Tokyo officials said, the latest in a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang that raised questions about the sincerity of its recent offer for talks with South Korea.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that “an unidentified projectile” fired from an inland location in North Korea flew toward the country’s eastern sea Tuesday morning. It said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were analysing the details of the launch.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said North Korea fired a possible ballistic missile but gave no further details.
Earlier this month, North Korea performed tests of ballistic and cruise missiles in its first such launches in six months, displaying an ability to attack South Korea and Japan, both key US allies where a total of 80,000 American troops are stationed.
But last Friday and Saturday, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, reached out to Seoul, saying it’s open to resuming talks and reconciliatory steps if conditions are met. Some experts said North Korea wants South Korea to play a role in winning relief from US-led sanctions or other concessions. In her second statement Saturday, Kim Yo Jong asked South Korea to abandon “hostile policies” and “double-dealing standards.”
On Sunday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry called her statement “meaningful” but urged North Korea to restore dormant communication channels before arranging talks between the rivals. North Korea hasn’t responded.
US officials have repeatedly expressed hopes to sit down for talks with North Korea but have also made it clear they will continue sanctions until the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
A US-led diplomatic effort aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons in return for economic and political benefits remain stalled after 2½ years. The main sticking point is a dispute over US-led sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests.
Kim Jong Un has said he will bolter his nuclear arsenal and introduce more sophisticated weapons if the United States doesn’t drop “hostile policies” on the North, an apparent reference to the sanctions. Despite his recent missile tests, Kim still maintains a moratorium on testing longer-range weapons capable of reaching the American homeland, a suggestion that it wants to keep the chances for future diplomacy with the US alive.
North Korea’s fragile economy has suffered a huge recent setback because of a combination of the coronavirus pandemic, sanctions, and natural disasters. Kim has said his country faces “the worst-ever” crisis.