U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed a new round of North Korean missile tests early Friday, five months after his last denuclearization talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and with pressure building to iron out a deal.
“These missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement,” he wrote on Twitter, later acknowledging that the missile tests could have violated United Nations resolutions. The two men met in Singapore in June of last year.
Kim Jong Un and North Korea tested 3 short range missiles over the last number of days. These missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was there discussion of short range missiles when we shook hands. There may be a United Nations violation, but..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2019
U.S. officials said earlier that Kim personally promised Trump not to conduct longer-range missile or nuclear tests.
“Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust,” the president wrote. “There is far too much for North Korea to gain … [and] there is far too much to lose.”
The North launched two projectiles around 3 a.m. local time from South Hamgyong province, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The projectiles traveled an estimated 220 kilometers, reaching an altitude of 25 kilometers, it later added. It was the third such launch in just over a week.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials assess the projectile as likely a “short-range ballistic missile” that shares flight characteristics with other recent North Korean launches, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement to reporters.
The Friday launch was first reported by U.S. officials, who said the move did not appear to threaten North America.
North Korea has test-fired at least six short-range weapons in just over a week, in an apparent attempt to increase leverage over the United States ahead of possible nuclear talks.
Last week’s launch involved North Korea’s version of a Russian Iskander ballistic missile, which appears specially designed to evade U.S. and South Korean missile defenses.
On Wednesday, North Korea tested what it called a “newly developed large-caliber, multiple launch, guided rocket system.” U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials say they see the test as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from any ballistic missile activity.
“We are concerned by the launches of ballistic missiles by North Korea in the past few days,” said Karen Pierce, Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations, following a closed-door Security Council meeting to discuss the matter Thursday.
“We reiterate our condemnation of such launches, which are violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” said Pierce, who spoke on behalf of Britain, France and Germany.
That statement is a strong contrast to Trump’s acknowledgement that “there may be a United Nations violation,” which lacked a strong denunciation.
After a missile launch Wednesday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric described the launches as “just another reminder of the importance of restarting talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump’s approach may be aimed at deescalating tensions and encouraging communication between the U.S. and North Korea. Talks have been stalled since a February Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended without a deal.
Kim in 2018 declared a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests, but that promise hasn’t been included in any public documents that have come out of Trump and Kim’s three meetings.
At the end of June, Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. White House officials described the meeting as a breakthrough, saying North Korea had agreed to resume working-level talks.
Since then, North Korea has gradually ramped up its threats and provocations, saying it may not engage in talks if the U.S. and South Korea go ahead with planned joint military exercises.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Thailand for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said he remains willing to talk with North Korean officials but that a meeting in Bangkok is unlikely.
“We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans,” Pompeo said Thursday. “I regret that it looks like I’m not going to have an opportunity to do that while I’m here … but we’re ready to go.”
As the Trump administration reassures North Korea of its intention to negotiate, U.S. lawmakers are expressing more skepticism about Trump’s approach to the country.
“The Trump administration should recognize that every new missile launch by North Korea is yet another play from the same old Kim family playbook,” Senator Edward Markey, ranking member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
“Not only has President Trump failed to codify in writing a nuclear and missile testing freeze, but when he says he has ‘no problem’ with shorter range missile launches, he gives North Korea a green light to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and threaten our allies,” Markey said.