SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, the South Korean military said, an escalation from the North’s most recent weapons test just five days ago.
The two missiles were launched eastward from the country’s northwest, with one flying 260 miles and the other about 170 miles, the military said in a statement. It said officials from the South and the United States were jointly analyzing flight data to determine what type of missiles they were.
“Our military has stepped up our surveillance and monitoring in preparation for possible additional launches by North Korea,” the statement said. “We remain fully prepared in close coordination with the United States.” The statement did not say where the missiles had landed, but the reported distances would put them in the sea between North Korea and Japan.
The launch came five days after North Korea fired several short-range projectiles off its east coast. They flew 43 to 125 miles before landing in the sea, the South Korean military said then in a statement.
Japan said on Thursday that the two missiles had not landed in its territorial waters. “At the moment, we don’t see any situation that would immediately impact on Japan’s security,” its Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The South Korean military first said the missiles were fired from Sino-ri, home to a North Korean ballistic missile base. But it later amended that, saying they had been launched from Kusong, a town north of Sino-ri.
North Korea has frequently launched missiles from Kusong, including its first solid-fuel midrange ballistic missile, known as Pukguksong-2, which it launched from there in February 2017. The Pukguksong-2 test marked a major leap forward for the North because the missile used solid fuel, which makes it easier to hide, transport and launch and harder for the United States to target in a pre-emptive strike.
Like the test on Saturday, the missile launches on Thursday did not violate a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, declared in April of last year.
But launching any kind of ballistic missile, including short-range missiles, violates United Nations Security Council resolutions that bar North Korea from testing such technology, analysts said. The tests on Saturday also appear to have involved at least one ballistic missile.
“I want to warn to the North that if this type of act is repeated, it can jeopardize efforts to promote dialogue and negotiations,” President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said on Thursday in an interview with KBS, the national broadcaster.
[How North Korea’s weapons test Saturday threatened President Trump’s diplomatic achievement.]
The launches come about two months after Mr. Kim met for the second time with President Trump, hoping to win relief from punishing sanctions in return for a partial dismantlement of his country’s nuclear weapons program.
But that meeting, in Hanoi, Vietnam, collapsed after Mr. Trump refused to lift sanctions until North Korea relinquished all of its nuclear weapons. Mr. Kim had wanted the most punishing sanctions lifted in exchange for only a partial dismantlement of its nuclear program.
When the missiles were launched on Thursday, Stephen Biegun, Mr. Trump’s point man on North Korea, was in South Korea for talks on how to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. Mr. Biegun had been expected to discuss food aid that South Korea plans to provide to the North as an incentive.
A North Korea expert in Seoul, Lee Byong-chul, said the timing was no coincidence. “With this launching, North Korea is making clear that it is demanding more than the mere humanitarian food aid South Korea and the United States are discussing,” said Mr. Lee, of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.
The launch also came as the United States and China are in last-ditch talks aimed at avoiding an escalation in their trade war, and it could represent an attempt by North Korea to increase its leverage with both powers.
[President Trump supports food aid for North Korea, the South says.]
The North’s weapons tests in recent days have been the most serious since the country launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.
The test on Saturday was largely seen as an attempt to increase pressure on Washington to return to talks with a more flexible proposal after the breakdown of the summit meeting in Hanoi. North Korean and American officials have since been unable to resume negotiations.
The choice to launch short-range projectiles on Saturday suggested that Mr. Kim had not given up hope on resuming negotiations, analysts said then. Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited Mr. Kim’s moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests as a reason to continue talks with North Korea.
North Korea is “incrementally increasing the magnitude of the tests to try to increase the momentum” of any future diplomatic talks, Michael Bosack, a special adviser for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies in Japan, said after the launches on Thursday.
With the United States still indicating that it is willing to continue talks, Mr. Kim is “posturing for what’s going to happen when they get there,” Mr. Bosack said. “The U.S. has not said ‘if you keep doing this we’re cutting off talks.’ Even after this last test this past weekend, the response from the U.S. was ‘we still want to talk,’ so this is to generate urgency and improve his position at the negotiating table.”
After the launches on Saturday, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that Mr. Kim “knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”
One of the projectiles the North launched on Saturday appeared to be the Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missile, which can make course corrections during its flight, making it difficult to shoot down with ballistic-missile defenses, according to missile experts.
Michael Elleman, interim director of the Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korea may have imported the missile directly from Moscow or through a third party.
“Regardless of the origins of North Korea’s newest short-range ballistic missile, its appearance and testing provide convincing evidence that Pyongyang continues to seek greater military and strategic capabilities,” Mr. Elleman wrote in a paper posted this week on 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea. “If little progress is made in the negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang in the near to mid-term future, expect to see the unveiling of more, increasingly capable strategic weapons and capabilities.”