Latest North Korea launch unlikely to break stalemate in US diplomatic talks

North Korea fired two short-range projectiles into the Sea of Japan early Friday morning according to South Korea’s military, marking North Korea’s sixth round of short-range missile testing in less than a month.

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The launch began just hours after North Korea rejected further dialogue with Seoul, citing its frustration with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the region. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were launched into the Sea of Japan at around 8:01 and 8:16 a.m. local time, and both flew about 143 miles at an altitude of 18 miles.

The officials did not confirm whether the projectiles were rockets or ballistic missiles, and President Donald Trump did not immediately acknowledge this latest launch.

Despite the ongoing missile testing, Trump last week boasted about his most recent letter from Kim Jong Un, calling it “beautiful’ and “positive” and claiming that Kim offered a “small apology” for the continued launches. Trump told reporters that Kim was fed up with the joint US-South Korean military exercises he calls “war games.”

“He wasn’t happy with the war games … I’ve never liked [the exercises], either,” Trump said. “You know why? I don’t like paying for it.”

Trump has continuously downplayed North Korea’s launches and touted the success of his relationship with Kim.

Last week, the president told reporters that “there have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-range, no ballistic missile tests, no long-range missiles.” However, U.S. officials have confirmed North Korea is testing short range ballistic missile tests that violate U.N. Security Council sanctions and continue to pose a threat to U.S. allies, as well as the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

In an interview Thursday with Voice of America, National Security Advisor John Bolton called the launches “troubling.”

“We think the range could probably hit all of South Korea and parts of Japan. That of course would endanger our deployed forces as well. These resolutions violate U.N. Security Council sanctions, and they don’t violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un made to President Trump, that’s true, but they are troubling for everybody watching the peninsula,” said Bolton.

Bolton also highlighted the stalemate in negotiations between the two nations since Trump and Kim’s historic meeting at the DMZ in late June. Citing North Korea’s failure to fully commit to denuclearization, Bolton told VOA: “We haven’t had really any substantive negotiations, at the working level with North Korea since the president met with Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone … The door is open for them … but they need to walk through it and they haven’t done that yet.”

Although Kim appears to be seeking attention from the U.S with these short-range tests, Trump has largely ignored the launches and they are unlikely to affect future relations between the U.S. and North Korea, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. Easley said that although the launch “makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust” with North Korea, negotiations are still possible.

“Working-level negotiations with North Korea are still worth pursuing, but those diplomatic efforts should be backed up by the preparation of additional sanctions and renewed U.S.-Japan-South Korea military cooperation if Pyongyang continues to violate UN resolutions and threaten its neighbors,” Easley said.

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