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North Korea Launches Missiles Ahead of Pompeo’s Visit to Asia

North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles off its east coast early Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, the second such launch in less than a week.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast, conducting its second such test in a week ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to the region.

The launches from North Korea’s Hodo Peninsula began shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday, South Korea’s military said. The missiles flew as far as 250 kilometers (155 miles) and reached an altitude of about 30 kilometers, traveling at a lower trajectory than similar weapons fired last week.

The Trump administration was aware of the reports of a missile launch from North Korea and would continue to monitor the situation, a State Department official said. The projectiles didn’t reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone and posed no threat to the country’s national security, the defense ministry said.

“If they threaten us and provoke us, North Korea’s regime and the North Korean military is with no doubt defined as our ‘enemy,’” South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said, in remarks suggesting that such actions could cause Seoul to reconsider its decision to downgrade the threat level of its neighbor.

The launches come as Pompeo headed to Bangkok for an Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering. The secretary of state, who has been U.S. President Donald Trump’s point man in nuclear negotiations since the two sides began talking last year, told reporters while en route to the region earlier that he didn’t expect the North Koreans to attend.

The Asean meeting would have been the first chance for a high-level encounter between the sides since Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands in the Demilitarized Zone last month and agreed to restart working level talks. Kim has warned that upcoming South Korea-U.S. military drills risked jeopardizing those negotiations.

“We knew last week’s launches weren’t going to be the end for now,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a Seoul-based analyst with NK Pro. “That said, today’s launches seem to track with the behavior North Korea has shown vis-a-vis the U.S. over the past few months of escalating pressure without crossing the line.”

North Korea has accused Pompeo of using “gangster-like” tactics in his dealings and demanded in April that he be removed from the nuclear negotiations. “If Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy,” North Korean diplomat Kwon Jong Gun was quoted as saying by the state’s official media.

After the previous missile tests on July 25, the official Korean Central News Agency said Kim oversaw the “power demonstration fire” of a new type of tactical guided weapon “to send a solemn warning” to his rivals in South Korea. While the statement didn’t mention Trump or the U.S., it criticized South Korea’s acceptance of American weapons and participation in the joint drills.

Trump has shrugged off similar tests because they didn’t violate Kim’s moratorium on larger missiles that could reach the U.S. “They really haven’t tested to missiles other than, you know, smaller ones, the -- which is something that lots test,” the U.S. president told the “Hannity” show on Fox News last week.

The projectiles were launched from the Hodo Peninsula in South Hamgyong Province, the Joint Chiefs said. The South Korean military was monitoring the situation on watch for additional launches.

The reported launches come as U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo heads to the region for a key Southeast Asia summit in Bangkok. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho will not be attending, the Yonhap News Agency reported last week, dashing any chance of a meeting with U.S. officials.

The meeting would have been the first chance for an encounter between the two sides since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands in the Demilitarized Zone last month.

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