WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said Thursday he had “no problem” with North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests amid an outcry from Washington’s allies and growing fears that Pyongyang is developing long-range weapons.
The North has conducted three tests over the past week, drawing condemnation from European members of the UN Security Council but a comparatively sanguine response from Trump, who has met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times as part of denuclearization talks.
“I have no problem, we’ll see what happens but short range (missiles) are very standard,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a rally in Ohio.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Thursday that Pyongyang had launched two unspecified short-range projectiles, a day after testing two short-range ballistic missiles that travelled 155 miles (250 kilometers) before coming down in the sea.
Similar to the Wednesday launch, the latest test took place from the North’s east coast in the pre-dawn hours, Yonhap said, citing Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pyongyang — which is banned from firing ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions — launched two projectiles last week with a considerably longer range than this week’s tests.
One traveled almost 435 miles, although Seoul said both were classified as short-range ballistic missiles.
Pyongyang described last week’s launch as a “solemn warning to the South Korean warmongers,” calling for the cancelation of planned joint military drills between Washington and Seoul.
– International condemnation –
On Thursday, three UN Security Council members — Britain, France and Germany — condemned Pyongyang over the spate of tests.
They urged the North to “take concrete steps towards its complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the US as agreed between President Trump and Kim Jong Un on 30 June.”
Trump — who has repeatedly touted his relationship with Kim — has played down Pyongyang’s recent launches, saying its rhetoric was targeting Seoul rather than Washington.
Meanwhile the Pentagon has said the US and the South will press ahead with the military drills.
South Korea is a US ally and Washington stations 28,500 troops in the country to protect it against its nuclear-armed neighbor, many of them based south of Seoul at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek — Washington’s biggest overseas military facility.
Shortly before the Thursday launch, Pyongyang released heavily pixelated images of the weapons test the day before, contradicting Seoul’s claim that it involved ballistic missiles and instead displaying a new guided rocket launcher.
That fueled concerns that the weapon could be intended to target Camp Humphreys.
Pictures carried by the North’s state television showed Kim supervising Wednesday’s launch from what appeared to be a mobile command post, and a silhouette of him watching the weapon rising into the sky.
Some of the images were heavily pixelated, however, and the official KCNA news agency did not release photos of the test, indicating the North hadn’t previously shown the weapon publicly and was still keeping secret some of its features.
The same day, South Korea’s military said a soldier from the North made a rare crossing of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula and announced his intention to defect to Seoul.
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