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By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Thursday fired two short-range missiles from near its east coast town of Wonsan into the East Sea, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The incident came amid growing uncertainty over the prospects for working-level talks that the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. agreed to hold in the near future when they met at the inter-Korean border last month.
"(The North) fired one short-range missile at around 5:34 a.m. and the other at 5:57 a.m., from Hodo Peninsula near its eastern coastal town of Wonsan into the East Sea," the JCS said.
One missile flew around 430 kilometers and the other appeared to travel a bit farther based upon an analysis by the United States, a JCS officer said, adding that both flew at an altitude of around 50 kilometers.
They were presumed to have been fired from a transporter erector launcher (TEL) and landed in the East Sea, the officer noted.
"We believe that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un has recently stayed in the region, and summertime military drills are now under way in the North. We have been closely monitoring the situation," he noted.
More analysis is needed to verify if they were ballistic missiles or not and whether they were the same type of short-range missiles that the North test-fired twice in May, according to the officer.
"Our military is closely monitoring the situation in case of additional launches while maintaining a readiness posture," the JCS said.
Given the flight range, Pyongyang on Thursday appears to have test-fired its version of Russia's Iskander ballistic missiles, just as it did back in May, according to experts.
On May 4, the North launched a fusillade of projectiles, which involved "a new type of tactical guided weapon" and 240-mm and 300-mm multiple rocket launcher systems. Five days later, it fired a barrage of projectiles, including two short-range missiles.
Though Seoul and Washington have not confirmed the exact types of the missiles, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said he believes the weapons North Korea fired in two rounds of tests in May were nearly the same type, though some differences have been spotted.
The latest firings took place ahead of possible talks between Pyongyang and Washington on the North's nuclear weapons program.
In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to resume their working-level talks within a few weeks.
While Pyongyang has reportedly not responded to Washington's offer for dialogue, it called on the U.S. and South Korea to cancel their combined military exercise slated for August, warning that the drill would affect ongoing efforts to resume its nuclear talks.
The latest firing also came just days after the North Korean leader inspected a newly built submarine, calling for the deployment of naval forces to boost his country's military capabilities, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday.
Experts see latest developments in the North as Pyongyang's efforts to put more pressure on Washington to come up with more concessions before the resumption of talks.
Since November 2017, when North Korea test-fired the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), leader Kim has declared a moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests.
Though launching short-range missiles does not renege on its self-declared moratorium, U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from all kinds of ballistic missile launches.
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