A man watches a television screen showing showing an image of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea during a news broadcast on North Korea’s unidentified ballistic missile launch (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

North Korea Launches Three Short-Range Ballistic Missiles

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles on Saturday morning, a move that came after Kim Jong Un’s regime strongly criticized U.S.-South Korea joint military drills.

U.S. Pacific Command said Saturday afternoon that two of the missiles flew 250 kilometers (155 miles), clarifying an earlier statement that an initial assessment had indicated they failed in flight. The other appeared to have blown up immediately.

The launches occurred near Kittaeryong in eastern North Korea, with the first fired at 6:49 a.m. local time. Military authorities said they didn’t pose a threat to North America or Guam.

The missile tests come shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised North Korea for showing some restraint and suggested that dialogue could take place soon. While the launch violates United Nations resolutions, short-range rockets are generally seen as less provocative than tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could deliver a nuclear device to the continental U.S.

“The North felt compelled to do something after Tillerson’s statement about them showing restraint,”  Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, said by email. “They certainly don’t want to give the impression they are backing down in the face of U.S. threats (even if they ultimately do so).”

Guam Warning

The U.S. and its allies had also warned Kim against following through with a threat to launch missiles toward Guam, home to key American military bases in the Pacific. Japan earlier this month deployed four Patriot missile interceptors into the western part of the country, which would be under the flight path toward the U.S. territory.

North Korea has conducted more than a dozen missile tests this year, including two ICBMS, leading to a war of words earlier this month between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim’s regime that rattled global markets. Tensions cooled in recent weeks, with Trump saying Tuesday that Kim was beginning to respect the U.S.

Trump had been informed of the latest tests and “we are monitoring the situation,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Korea Tensions

South Korea planned to hold a national security council meeting on Saturday morning. South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said that the projectiles shot on Saturday flew in a northeasterly direction.

Kim’s provocations are a headache for South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in, who won office in May pledging to engage with the regime to help bring peace to the peninsula. Moon said in a Berlin speech last month that he was willing, under the right circumstances, to meet Kim “anytime, anywhere.”

North Korea Launches Three Short-Range Ballistic Missiles

North Korea has yet to respond to an offer by Moon to seek a deal by 2020 to bring about the “complete denuclearization” of the isolated nation in return for a peace treaty that would guarantee the survival of Kim’s regime. It has strongly criticized military exercises led by the U.S. and South Korea that run through the end of the month.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to tighten sanctions on North Korea, targeting about a third of the nation’s roughly $3 billion in exports. Kim’s regime has said it won’t give up its nuclear weapons and missile program until the U.S. drops its “hostile” policies.