N. Korea conducts new missile tests as Trump backs Kim on war games
North Korea conducted the latest in a series of missile launches Saturday to protest US-South Korean war games, just hours after US President Donald Trump expressed his own frustration with the exercises.
Defence officials in Seoul said what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles were fired at daybreak from near the northeastern city of Hamhung, flying 400 kilometres (250 miles) before splashing down in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan. It was the fifth round of launches in two weeks, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un labelling them a "solemn warning" over the joint military drills that began just days ago.
Saturday's tests came shortly after Trump said he agreed with Kim's opposition to the war games-albeit for financial rather than military reasons. Trump has repeatedly talked up his close personal relationship with Kim, as his administration seeks to resume stalled denuclearisation talks with the North. "I got a very beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un
yesterday," Trump said. "It was a very positive letter." "He wasn't happy with the war games. I've never liked it either. I've never been a fan. And you know why? I don't like paying for it." Hours later, the White House had no immediate comment on the newest rocket tests.
"We are consulting closely with our Japanese and South Korean allies," a senior administration official told AFP. The joint drills and ongoing military exercises in North Korea left a "high" possibility of further missile launches, Seoul's military joint chiefs of staff said in a statement. "Our military is monitoring the situation in case of additional launches while maintaining a readiness posture," the statement said.
Trump has appeared determined to secure a denuclearisation agreement with North Korea ahead of next year's presidential elections, despite faltering talks since he first met Kim in a historic ice-breaking summit in Singapore in June 2018. Trump claimed Kim had agreed to give up his arsenal of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. But Pyongyang has maintained that the United States must lift its economic embargo and sanctions on the country for talks to progress. Yet even after their abortive second summit in February, Trump has been reluctant to criticise the North Korean leader. In June he offered an olive branch by meeting Kim in the Panmunjon truce village in the Korean Demilitarised Zone, becoming the first sitting US president ever to step inside the North. On Friday, he said the missile launches weren't important.
"I'll say it again. There have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-range. No ballistic missile tests, no long-range missiles," Trump said. Washington and Seoul pledged in March to scale down its joint drills in an effort to foster denuclearisation talks with Pyongyang.