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N. Korea launches 2 short-range ballistic missiles

People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on July 25, 2019..(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL/TOKYO (Kyodo) -- North Korea launched two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan off its east coast on Thursday morning, the South Korean military said, with a Japanese government source saying they were ballistic missiles.

They were North Korea's first ballistic missile launches since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed at a June 30 meeting to resume stalled denuclearization talks between the two countries.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that of the two short-range missiles launched from near the Hodo Peninsula, the first one flew about 430 kilometers and the second one traveled about 690 km before falling into the sea.

The first missile was launched at 5:34 a.m. and the second at 5:57 a.m., the JCS said, adding that both reached an altitude of about 50 km. South Korea is working with the United States to look into the type of missile launched and North Korea's intentions.

The Japanese source said the missiles fell into the sea before reaching Japan's exclusive economic zone, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying they posed no threat to the country's national security.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, speaking to reporters, indicated that if the missiles turn out to be the same type of short-range ballistic missile fired back in May, Thursday's launches would constitute a violation of U.N. resolutions banning North Korea from using ballistic technology.

North Korea last fired short-range ballistic missiles on May 9. Seen as a new model, they flew up to around 420 km and reached an altitude of about 50 km. It also fired short-range projectiles on May 4.

Also Thursday, South Korea's Defense Ministry urged North Korea to stop firing missiles, with ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun Soo describing the action as "unhelpful" to efforts to reduce military tension on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea's presidential office said the government had detected signs of a North Korean missile launch and been watching them closely. President Moon Jae In was immediately briefed on the launches after they occurred, it added.

Kenji Kanasugi, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, held separate telephone talks with Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, and Lee Do Hoon, South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs.

Biegun and Lee also spoke by phone to discuss the North Korean missile activity, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

The missile launches come as the United States and North Korea have been calling on each other to make concessions over the stalled nuclear talks that their leaders agreed to resume at their last meeting in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.

North Korea has also been stepping up criticism of a joint military exercise planned between the United States and South Korea in August, even hinting at resuming nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests if the two countries go ahead as planned.

In a report on July 16, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that the planned U.S.-South Korean exercise would violate the commitment Trump made to Kim at their summit in June 2018 to suspend joint military drills.

"Our discontinuation of the nuclear and ICBM tests and the U.S. suspension of joint military exercises are, for all intents and purposes, commitments made to improve bilateral relations. They are not a legal document inscribed on a paper," the official said then.

"With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well," the spokesman added.

When North Korea fired the missiles on Thursday morning, Abe was in Yamanashi Prefecture west of Tokyo, where he has been vacationing since the previous day. The Japanese leader went ahead with a round of golf with his acquaintances at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that he is keeping the prime minister up to date on the situation, while coordinating closely with the United States and South Korea in gathering and analyzing relevant information.

Japan called the missile tests on May 9 a clear breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from launching any type of ballistic missile.

But Trump downplayed them, even though his security adviser John Bolton and then acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recognized them as a violation.

In a report Thursday, The Dong-A Ilbo, a South Korean daily, quoted South Korean government sources as saying that as of Wednesday, preparations for a surface-to-air missile launch had been under way in a coastal area in North Korea's east.

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