North Korea Launches 2 Projectiles; South Korean Experts Blame Trump


ImagePeople watching a news program reporting about North Korea firing projectiles into the sea on Friday.
People watching a news program reporting about North Korea firing projectiles into the sea on Friday.CreditCreditLee Jin-Man/Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched two projectiles yet again off its east coast on Friday, as South Korean analysts said President Trump’s repeated downplaying of the North’s weapons tests had given it a free hand to conduct them.

The two projectiles, launched from Tongchon in the southeast of North Korea, flew 143 miles, the South Korean military said in a statement.

South Korean defense officials said they were analyzing data they acquired through radar and other intelligence-gathering equipment to determine what type of projectiles were launched.

The launching on Friday was the sixth time North Korea has tested short-range ballistic missiles or other projectiles since late last month.

It also came a day after President Moon Jae-in of South Korea urged North Korea and the United States to resume dialogue to try to narrow their differences on how to denuclearize the North so that the South Korean leader could push his ambitious plan to integrate the economies of the two Koreas.

North Korea blamed a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States when it started conducting its latest series of weapons tests last month. It mainly blamed South Korea for the exercise, saying that it could resume a dialogue with Washington, but not with Seoul, once the joint military exercise ends later this month. And Mr. Trump has complained more about the expense of the joint military drills than about the North’s missile tests.

President Trump has shrugged off North Korea’s recent weapons tests, calling them “smaller ones” that involved neither nuclear explosions nor intercontinental ballistic missiles. On Saturday, he said North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had sent him a letter with a “small apology” explaining that North Korea was conducting tests to counter the American military exercise with South Korea that Mr. Trump has himself criticized as too expensive.

Analysts said Mr. Trump’s downplaying of North Korea’s recent missile tests gave the country a green light to develop and test new short-range weapon systems that threatened not only American allies in South Korea and Japan but also American troops and civilians living there. Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is also banned from testing ballistic missile technology.

“Rather than denouncing these tests as violations of U.N. resolutions and as a threat to the American allies, President Trump has sounded as if he didn’t care, describing them as not a threat to the mainland United States,” said Kim Sung-han, a former vice foreign minister of South Korea who teaches at Korea University in Seoul. “His comments make the allies and American troops in the region more vulnerable to North Korean missile threats.”

Mr. Trump’s attitude provided the North with a perfect opportunity to test new missiles that would make it harder the South Korean and United States militaries to intercept, said Lee Byong-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

It has also helped encourage North Korea to ignore the South as a dialogue partner, he said.

“North Korea wants to advance its missile technology as much as possible before the talks with the United States resume so that it can enter them with more leverage,” Mr. Lee said. “It has become clear that North Korea wants to deal directly with the United States, seeing nothing to gain thorough talks with the South.”

Indeed, North Korea has been less amenable to negotiating with South Korea, which it accused of failing to carry out the ambitious inter-Korean economic projects that its leader, Kim Jong-un, and Mr. Moon agreed to pursue in meetings last year. In recent months, it has used increasingly insulting language to attack Mr. Moon, who has helped arrange meetings between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.

Despite widespread skepticism over inter-Korean relations, Mr. Moon said in his speech on Thursday that despite “a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently,” the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken. He said South and North Korea could prosper together in an integrated “peace economy” if the North chooses “economic prosperity over its nuclear program.”

“The international community has also promised to assist its economic growth if it abandons its nuclear program,” Mr. Moon said. “New markets and opportunities will open up for both South and North Korean businesses.”

But hours after Mr. Moon’s speech, North Korea said it had nothing to talk about with South Korean authorities.

An unnamed Northern government spokesperson said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday that Mr. Moon’s remarks were so preposterous that they would “make the boiled head of a cow laugh.” The spokesperson said the joint military drill between the South and the United States was clearly an exercise to “annihilate” the North. The North also accused South Korea of continuing to build up its arms behind the mask of talking peace.

Earlier this week, South Korea’s military unveiled multibillion-dollar plans to build new warships and develop precision guided weapons. Its midterm military spending plans were announced amid growing fears over North Korea’s expanding missile capabilities.

In the weapons tests since late last month, North Korea has unveiled two new short-range ballistic missiles and a new guided multiple-tube rocket launcher.

Analysts say that the new missiles left little doubt that despite Mr. Trump’s insistence that his on-again, off-again diplomacy with Mr. Kim is making progress, the North has continued to modernize and expand its missile capabilities. All three of the new missile and rocket systems tested by the North marked significant advances for the country’s military, they said.

They all used solid fuel and were fired from mobile launchers. Such missiles and rockets are easier to transport and hide, especially in a mountainous country like North Korea, and take less time to prepare for launching than the North’s old missiles that used liquid fuel, they said.

The weapons also appeared to be maneuvered during their low-altitude, high-speed flight, making it more difficult for South Korean and United States missile defense systems to intercept them, the analysts said.

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 9 of the New York edition with the headline: More Launches by North Korea, 6th Time in Month. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe