UPDATED 11:35 AM PT — Tuesday, August 6, 2019
North Korea fired missiles into the sea off its east coast for the fourth time in less than two weeks. It’s latest launch of short-range ballistic missiles was conducted Tuesday in response to military exercises between Washington and Seoul.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon is taking the launches seriously, and will continue to monitor them.
“I think the key is to keep the door open for diplomacy,” he stated. “The president had a good meeting last month or so with (Supreme Leader) Kim Jong-un and we’re not going to over react to these, but we monitor them, we watch them closely and we’re cognizant of what’s happening.”
President Trump first met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018 in an effort to end its nuclear weapons program. During the meeting, the two sides signed a vague agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
The two met again in February in Vietnam, but did not reach a formal agreement. A third summit was held in June at the Demilitarized Zone, but no agreement was reached one again.
President Trump said North Korea’s tests of short range missiles are not in violation of an agreement signed at their first summit. However, North Korea is reportedly threatening to carry out more weapons tests. They are claiming the U.S. broke its promise by conducting military drills with South Korea.
Esper is visiting Japan and South Korea this week, and will discuss the missile launches with his counterparts in both countries.
“My message in both Seoul and Tokyo will likely be: look, we have really big challenges, the near term threat, challenge if you will, North Korea,” said the defense secretary. “In the longer term, bigger one of China, we should focus on these two things, so I would ask them to both resolve this issue quickly and let’s really focus on North Korea and China.”
Talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled. Meanwhile, analysts say Pyongyang’s weapons tests are meant to improve its military capabilities and pressure Washington to offer more concessions.