(Oct 2): North Korea fired what appeared to be a submarine-based ballistic missile off its eastern coast Wednesday in an escalation that came just hours after saying it would resume stalled nuclear talks with the US.

South Korea’s military said North Korea may have fired a submarine-based ballistic missile, which traveled 450 kilometers (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 kilometers. Japan earlier said two ballistic missiles were launched Wednesday, with one one appearing to land in its exclusive economic zone off Shimane prefecture.

A submarine-based missile test would mark an escalation from the series of short-range launches that North Korea started in May, involving land-based missiles. It was the first time the regime would’ve fired a submarine-based missile since 2016, which South Korea said flew about 500 kilometers.

“The launch of this type of ballistic missile is a violation of United Nations resolutions. Japan strongly protests and condemns the action,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in an emergency news conference. Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it talked with the US point man for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, about the launch and they agreed to cooperate with South Korea.

North Korea, which has a habit of raising the stakes in its dealings with the US through military provocations, last launched missiles about a month ago, just hours after saying then it was willing to restart nuclear talks with the US.

It is barred by the UN from ballistic missile launches but President Donald Trump has downplayed the short-range tests as routine, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has lived up to his pledge to halt test of nuclear devices and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“North Korea is always trying to push the boundaries of what the international community will accept as far as they can go, and timing launches at moments when the United States is less likely to object certainly meets that goal,” said Mintaro Oba, a former US diplomat who worked on Korean Peninsula issues.

A senior administration official said the US is aware of the missile-launch reports, adding “we are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in the region.”

Missile Shield
Kim and Trump agreed at a June 30 meeting in the demilitarised zone that divides the Korean Peninsula to hold working-level talks in a matter of weeks. But the two sides have not met since then to discuss details of a disarmament deal.

The Wednesday launch came about 12 hours after North Korea’s state media reported it would restart working-level denuclearisation talks on Saturday.

“It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-US relations,” the state’s Korean Central News Agency quoted Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as saying. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the formal name of North Korea.

The State Department confirmed the planned meeting but didn’t release details.

North Korea has previously criticised South Korea’s deployment of a new stealth F-35 fighter jet, which made its first public appearance in the country at a military day Tuesday. It has slammed Seoul for allowing high-tech weapons on the peninsula, saying it undermines trust with its neighbour.

Pyongyang has fired off at least 20 missiles in 11 different military tests since May, extending the regime’s most prolific run of launches since Trump took office. The tests have included blasts from multiple rocket launchers and a new short-range ballistic missile known as the KN-23, which weapons experts said is nuclear-warhead capable, can strike all of South Korea and is designed to evade US missile shields.

Little progress has been made toward an agreement despite three meetings between the two leaders. Meanwhile, weapons experts said North Korea has been adding fissile material to its nuclear arsenal and improving its ability to launch a nuclear strike against the US as well as its allies Japan and South Korea.