North Korea Launches More Missiles, U.S. Says, Amid Stalled Diplomacy

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Edward Wong

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a conference in Bangkok that American negotiators were ready to meet with North Korean counterparts.

ImageSouth Koreans watching a television news broadcast reporting on a North Korean missile launch in Seoul on Wednesday.
South Koreans watching a television news broadcast reporting on a North Korean missile launch in Seoul on Wednesday.CreditCreditChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — North Korea launched its third missile test in just over a week, in what President Trump described on Thursday as a test involving short-range missiles with which he had “no problem.”

Defense Department officials said it appeared that two projectiles were launched, although it was unclear from where, or what type of missiles were fired.

The flurry of missile tests comes before a joint military exercise this month between the United States and South Korea that North Korea has sharply criticized.

It also comes as North Korean officials failed to appear at an annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that they have attended in the past. “We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Thursday at the forum in Bangkok.

At the White House on Thursday, Mr. Trump appeared to shrug off the test that was launched early Friday in Asia.

“They are very standard,” Mr. Trump told reporters, adding that he never made an agreement with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that forbade the testing of short-range missiles.

Last Thursday, North Korea launched two short-range missiles. One flew 267 miles and the other 430 miles before both landed in waters between North Korea and Japan.

South Korean officials quickly accused the North of testing a ballistic missile for the first time since November 2017. Those missiles, South Korean officials said, were a new short-range variant that resembled Russia’s Iskander missile system, which is capable of firing nuclear-tipped projectiles.

North Korea tested two more short-range missiles on Wednesday, landing roughly 150 miles off its coast, according to the South Korean military.

The projectiles North Korea launched on Friday flew 136 miles and reached a height of 15 miles, the South Korean military said.

Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, criticized Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the latest missile test.

“When he says he has ‘no problem’ with shorter range missile launches, he gives North Korea a green light to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and threaten our allies,” Mr. Markey said in a statement. “Instead of willfully ignoring these launches, President Trump and Secretary Pompeo must strongly and definitively call on North Korea to halt these provocations.”

With the missile tests, North Korea could be signaling its opposition to a military drill by the United States and South Korea that is scheduled for August. The drill, called Dong Maeng, is smaller than the full-fledged joint war games that the militaries used to conduct. On Wednesday, a senior Pentagon official told reporters he did not expect any changes to the drill.

The two allies have not held a large-scale military exercise since Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kim for the first time in June 2018 in Singapore.

At that meeting, Mr. Trump agreed to halt such exercises. In return, Mr. Kim has stopped North Korea’s nuclear testing and long-range ballistic missile launches. That has not stopped North Korea from launching short-range missiles, but Mr. Trump and other American officials have said those do not violate the testing halt that Mr. Kim promised.

On June 30, Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kim at the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, and said afterward that diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang would restart. Negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program stalled after the two leaders failed to reach an agreement in February at a summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Newspapers of the Workers’ Party of Korea — the ruling party of North Korea — ran propaganda of the two leaders meeting at the Demilitarized Zone. But since then, there has been no progress on the diplomacy.

On Thursday, Mr. Pompeo was joined in Bangkok by Stephen E. Biegun, the special representative for North Korea. Maintaining his offer to talk to North Korean officials, Mr. Pompeo said, “I regret that it looks like I’m not going to have an opportunity to do that while I’m here in Bangkok, but we’re ready to go.”

“We hope that Chairman Kim will deploy his team to meet with Special Representative Biegun so that we can continue the dialogue,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The talks in Hanoi fell apart when Mr. Trump insisted on a grand bargain in which North Korea would give up its entire nuclear arsenal and end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a lifting of all American sanctions.

Mr. Kim rejected that. Instead, he demanded that five sets of major sanctions, which were imposed starting in late 2016, be lifted in exchange for a dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear production complex, which is central to North Korea’s program.

Since then, Mr. Pompeo and other officials at the State Department have sought new openings for negotiations. They are now considering trying to get Mr. Kim to commit to a freeze of the North’s nuclear activity as an intermediate step toward the goal of a complete end to the program and a surrender of the arsenal.

In April, during a visit to the White House by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Mr. Trump signaled that both sides might need to make gradual concessions.

“There are various smaller deals that could happen,” the president said then. “You could work out step-by-step pieces, but at this moment, we’re talking about the big deal. The big deal is we have to get rid of nuclear weapons.”

John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, and aides on the National Security Council have also insisted on sticking to the grand-bargain approach.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a reporter in the Washington bureau and a former Marine infantryman. @tmgneff

Edward Wong is a diplomatic and international correspondent who has reported for The Times for more than 20 years, 13 of those in Iraq and China. He received a Livingston Award for his Iraq War coverage and was on a team of Pulitzer Prize finalists. He has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton. @ewong

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 7 of the New York edition with the headline: North Korea Launches More Missiles. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe