North Korea Launches Projectiles Despite ‘Beautiful Letter’ from Kim Jong-un to Trump


ImagePresident Trump speaking about North Korea with reporters at the White House on Friday.
President Trump speaking about North Korea with reporters at the White House on Friday.CreditCreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two projectiles off its east coast on Saturday, hours after President Trump said he had received a “very beautiful letter” from the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

The projectiles were launched from Hamhung, a coastal town northeast of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the South Korean military said in a brief statement.

It was the second weapons test by North Korea this week. North Korea launched what South Korea called two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday, part of a series of tests of short-range ballistic missiles and large-caliber multiple rocket launchers that began late last month.

North Korea has been carrying out the tests to express its anger at a joint military drill the United States and South Korea are scheduled to begin on Sunday and to gain leverage in bilateral talks that Washington hopes to start soon with the North, analysts said.

The office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said the projectiles North Korea launched on Saturday appeared to have been short-range ballistic missiles. It urged North Korea to stop such tests because it said they could raise military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

On Friday, Mr. Trump said that he had received a letter from Mr. Kim a day earlier and added that he could have another meeting with him.

“It was a very positive letter,” he told reporters at the White House. “I think we’ll have another meeting. He really wrote a beautiful, three-page — I mean, right from top to bottom — a really beautiful letter.”

Since last year, Mr. Trump has held three summit meetings with Mr. Kim including a brief meeting on the South Korea-North Korea border on June 30. But he is nowhere near close to achieving what his administration says is its ultimate goal in negotiations: the North’s “final and fully verifiable denuclearization.”

Mr. Trump has been playing down the significance of the North’s recent weapons tests, calling them “smaller ones” that did not involve a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile. He has also stressed he was still getting along “very well” with Mr. Kim.

On Friday, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Kim had discussed his country’s missile tests in his letter and that Mr. Kim wrote that he was not happy about carrying them out.

“But he wasn’t happy with the testing; he put that in the letter,” Mr. Trump said. “In the meantime, I 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.”

Mr. Trump’s comments partly contradicted South Korea’s analysis of the missiles North Korea has launched in recent weeks. The South said that at least some of them were short-range ballistic missiles. Under a series of United Nations resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles.

According to Mr. Trump, the North Korean leader also indicated that he was not happy with the joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Mr. Trump said he didn’t like them either because South Korea didn’t pay enough for them.

“I’ve never liked it. I’ve never been a fan,” he said. “You know why? I don’t like paying for it. We should be reimbursed for it, and I’ve told that to South Korea.”

South Korea and the United States are about to begin a new round of talks on how to divide the cost of maintaining 28,500 United States troops in South Korea. South Korea paid about $925 million this year but Washington wants Seoul to increase its contribution.

Despite the lack of progress in talks with North Korea and the recent missile tests, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have refrained from criticizing each other. They have also exchanged several letters since last year, keeping the momentum for diplomacy alive.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he was hopeful that staff-level talks would resume with North Korea in a couple of weeks.

On Friday, Mr. Trump also urged South Korea and Japan to “sit down and get along with each other,” indicating that a festering trade dispute between the American allies was undermining Washington’s ability to work closely with them to better cope with the challenges posed by China and North Korea.

“South Korea and Japan are fighting all the time. They’ve got to get along because it puts us in a very bad position,” he said in his strongest criticism of the way Seoul and Tokyo have been handling their dispute. “I’m concerned that they’re not getting along with each other.”

Analysts have accused Mr. Trump of being reluctant to help repair the rift between the American allies.