U.S. says it is monitoring situation after N.K. projectile launch

WASHINGTON-- The United States is aware of reports of a North Korean "missile" launch and is monitoring the situation with allies in the region, the State Department said Thursday.

North Korea on Thursday fired two short-range projectiles from what is presumed to be a super-large multiple rocket launcher, according to South Korea's military. The projectiles were fired into waters off the east coast.

The latest launch came as North Korea has urged the U.S. to drop its "hostile" policy and offer a solution to their stalled denuclearization negotiations before the end of the year.

"We are aware of reports of a North Korean missile launch," a State Department spokesperson said in response to a Yonhap query. "We are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in the region."

The U.S. has shown a similar response to North Korea's previous launches this year.

Since May, the regime has conducted 13 tests of short-range ballistic missiles and other projectiles, including a submarine-launched ballistic missile in October.

Thursday's launch may be the fourth test of the North's super-large rocket launcher system, following earlier tests on Aug. 24, Sept. 10, and Oct. 31.

"Today's launches fit a North Korean pattern of escalating pressure on Washington and Seoul ahead of (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un's year-end deadline," said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

But combining the year-end deadline with a demand that Washington's "hostile" policy must be dropped before denuclearization talks can continue reflects Pyongyang's muddled strategy and lack of seriousness about denuclearization, he said.

"If North Korea returns to a cycle of provocations, it risks redoubled military exercises by the U.S. and its allies, additional economic sanctions, and an international information campaign to delegitimize the Kim regime," the professor added.

Denuclearization negotiations have stalled since February's second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim ended without a deal.

The two sides remain apart on the extent to which North Korea needs to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in order to receive sanctions relief and other concessions from the U.S.

Earlier this month, South Korea and the U.S. postponed planned military exercises in support of diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the regime, but the North dismissed the move as insufficient. The regime has long condemned the drills as rehearsals for an invasion.

Speaking last week at a congressional hearing for his nomination as deputy secretary of state, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said he has not seen concrete evidence that the North plans to denuclearize, but believes the regime can still make that choice.

He also said the U.S. is not bound to the North "artificial" deadline, and added that if the North Koreans revert to "provocative steps" it would be a "huge mistake and a missed opportunity" for the regime.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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