Seoul says North Korea fires projectiles amid stalled talks

South Korea's military says North Korea fired two projectiles toward its eastern sea, an apparent resumption of weapons tests aimed at ramping up pressure on Washington over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations.

Launch comes after Pyongyang officials decry slow pace of nuclear talks with U.S.

A North Korea official has said the U.S. would be 'seriously mistaken' if it ignores an end-of-year deadline set by leader Kim Jong-un, shown here, for mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage nuclear diplomacy. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea's military said North Korea on Thursday fired two projectiles toward its eastern sea, an apparent resumption of weapons tests aimed at ramping up pressure on Washington over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations.

Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons were fired from a region near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't immediately confirm whether the weapons were ballistic missiles or rocket artillery, or how far they flew.

Japan's Defence Ministry said it believed the North Korean weapons were ballistic, but they did not reach Japan's territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone.

North Korea's latest launch follows statements of displeasure by top government officials over the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States and demands the Trump administration ease sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang.

Senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol on Sunday said his country was running out of patience with the United States over what it described as unilateral disarmament demands, and warned a close personal relationship between the leaders alone wouldn't be enough to prevent nuclear diplomacy from derailing.

He said the Trump administration would be "seriously mistaken" if it ignores an end-of-year deadline set by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage nuclear diplomacy.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Korea University, said North Korea will likely ramp up its weapons demonstrations in coming weeks to increase pressure on Washington ahead of Kim's deadline. There's a possibility that the North fires some of its powerful midrange missiles over Japan, as it did during a provocative run in weapons tests in 2017, Nam said.

"North Korea is investing all its strength in a hardline position against Washington and Seoul," said Nam, a former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think-tank affiliated with South Korea's main spy agency. "If its missiles fly over Japan, the international impact would be huge because the United States and Japan would find it difficult to let it go," he said.

Earlier this month, the North test-fired an underwater-launched ballistic missile for the first time in three years. The North has also tested new short-range ballistic missile and rocket artillery systems in recent months in what experts saw as an effort to use the standstill in talks to advance its military capabilities while increasing its bargaining power.

Multiple rocket launcher test successful

In a separate test, North Korea conducted another trail of super-large multiple rocket launchers on Thursday afternoon, calling it a success, state news agency KCNA said on Friday.

The latest test of the "super-large multiple rocket launchers," following two tests in August and September of the same weapon that Kim oversaw, the news agency said.

The apparent launching of projectiles that, according to military officials in Japan and South Korea, landed in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, is seen in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency on Thursday. (KCNA via Reuters)

North Korea's state newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, showed a photo of the multiple rocket launcher, surrounded by yellow flames and smoke.

Thursday's test verified that the "continuous fire system" of the multiple rocket launchers is able to "totally destroy" a group target of the enemy by a surprise strike, KCNA added.

"North Korea is engaged in increasingly escalatory behaviour," Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, chair of the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and international cybersecurity policy, said in a statement.

"This launch and continued North Korean aggression underscore the need for the Trump administration to re-commit to the maximum pressure policy" and for Congress to impose additional sanctions against the Kim government, Gardner said.

Negotiations falter 

Negotiations have faltered after the collapse of a February summit between Kim and Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, where the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal toward partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities.

Kim and U.S President Donald Trump, seen here at a meeting in Hanoi, have exchanged heated rhetoric online and held face-to-face talks. What's next for the U.S.-North Korean relationship isn't clear after recent talks in Sweden broke down. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The North responded with intensified testing activity while Kim said he would "wait with patience until the end of the year for the United States to come up with a courageous decision."

Washington and Pyongyang resumed working-level discussion in Sweden earlier this month, but the meeting broke down amid acrimony with the North Koreans calling the talks "sickening" and accusing the Americans of maintaining an "old stance and attitude."

After the breakdown in Sweden, North Korea released a series of photos showing Kim riding a white horse to a snow-covered Mount Paektu, a volcano considered sacred by North Koreans and a place where the leader has often visited before making key decisions. Speaking to officials near the mountain, Kim vowed to overcome U.S.-led sanctions that he said had both pained and infuriated his people.

News of the launches came after South Korea said earlier Thursday that the North Korean leader sent a message of condolence to South Korean President Moon Jae-in over his mother's recent death.

The two leaders met three times last year and struck a set of deals aimed at easing animosities and boosting exchanges. But in recent months, North Korea has drastically reduced its engagement and diplomatic activities with South Korea, after Seoul failed to resume lucrative joint economic projects held back by U.S.-led UN sanctions.

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Last week, Kim ordered the destruction of South Korean-built facilities at a long-shuttered joint tourist project at North Korea's scenic Diamond Mountain resort. South Korea later proposed talks but North Korea has insisted they exchange documents to work out details of Kim's order.

"The North Korean leader does not ride a white horse to the top of Paektu mountain because he is satisfied with the status quo," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

"Kim's year-end threat is as much a deadline for economic progress as it is a diplomatic ultimatum," Easley said. "This is why Pyongyang is increasing pressure on Seoul and Washington in the form of announcing plans to bulldoze even stalled inter-Korean projects, such as at Mount Kumgang, while continuing provocative missile tests."