The South Korean military initially described it as a missile launch, but subsequently gave a more vague description.
If the unidentified projectiles were missiles, it would be the first missile launch since the North fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in November 2017. Soon after that missile test, the North declared that its nuclear force was complete, after which Pyongyang extended an olive branch to the South and the United States.
In a statement, South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired several unidentified short-range projectiles from the east coast city of Wonsan around 9 a.m. (0000 GMT) which flew about 70 kms to 200 kms (44-124 miles) in a north-easterly direction.
The South Korean military said it was conducting joint analysis with the United States of the latest launches. Experts say the projectiles seem to be multiple rocket launchers, not ballistic missiles.
Analysts said that no matter what type of projectile was fired, the timing of North Korea’s latest action sent a message after the failed summit between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in February, when the two disagreed over weapons dismantlement and sanctions relief.
“It is an expression of the North’s frustration over stalled talks with the United States. It is a message that it could return to the previous confrontational mode if there is no breakthrough in the stalemate,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, “We are aware of North Korea’s actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary.”
In Seoul, South Korea’s presidential office said the country’s defense minister, intelligence chief and presidential security advisors had gathered to monitor the situation.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha agreed to “cautiously respond” to the latest firing and to continue communications during a phone call on Saturday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Pompeo also held talks with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and agreed, together with South Korea, to cooperate and share information, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
“At this point, we have not confirmed any situation where Japan’s national security would immediately be affected,” Japan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.