|North Korea fired two short-range missiles from Wonsan, Gangwon Province, into the East Sea, Thursday morning, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. This photo released by North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), May 10, shows a missile being launched from a transporter erector launcher the previous day. KCNA-Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
The government confirmed Thursday evening that two short-range missiles launched by North Korea earlier the day were of a "new type of ballistic missile," adding they would not be of help to the ongoing efforts to ease military tension on the peninsula.
The assessment came at a National Security Council (NSC) meeting presided over by presidential national security advisor Chung Eui-yong. The NSC members also discussed other issues including sending a naval presence to the Strait of Hormuz, and the violation of South Korean airspace by a Russian military aircraft.
The NSC's assessment of the launches came hours after the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced that the North had fired two "missiles" toward the East Seat at 5:34 a.m. and 5:57 a.m., respectively, from Wonsan in Gangwon Province.
The first flew 430 kilometers while the second flew 690 kilometers. They were widely believed by military experts to be KN-23s, a modified version of the Russian "Iskander," which has a usual range of 500 kilometers.
A spokesman said the Ministry of National Defense viewed the launches "as a military threat and moves undermining joint efforts to ease military tensions on the peninsula."
"The government has been thoroughly and closely monitoring relevant activities and is asking North Korea to suspend those which we believe are not truly helpful in concerted efforts to ease military tensions on the peninsula," Choi Hyun-soo told reporters. "The JCS is conducting further analysis over the matter in close cooperation and coordination with the U.S."
The ministry said the launch violated the spirit of the Sept. 19 Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) reached last year between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It said ministry officials have been closely watching Kim's recent activities in the region implying that it was likely he watched the event.
The launches came just weeks after a historic encounter between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim at the inter-Korean border of Panmunjeom. Observers said they could have been an "unofficial response" to next month's planned joint military exercise between the U.S. and South Korea. Washington and Seoul regularly conduct joint exercises. But the two allies intentionally scaled back a number of recent drills as part of an effort to reduce tensions with Pyongyang.
Military experts in Seoul said the launches were a continuation of North Korea's low-profile protests to Washington following earlier missile firings in May. But they said this didn't indicate Pyongyang wanted to break the momentum for the nuclear disarmament talks with Washington.
"The ranges of the latest missiles were not far enough to the extent where the talks would be halted," Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting research fellow with the Asan Institute for Policy Studies said.
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) recently broadcast footage of Kim inspecting a "newly built submarine" without providing the location.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a "toned-down" response to the launches, saying they would not affect Japan's security. Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Tokyo would closely cooperate with Washington and Seoul by sharing necessary information with them for further analysis.
But Iwaya added the launches would have violated the United Nations sanctions if the missiles were ballistic in nature.