March 24, 2021 13:27
North Korea fired multiple short-range missiles off the west coast last weekend amid ongoing U.S.-South Korea military drills.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff here waited until Wednesday to confirm the launches in what appears a concerted campaign to downplay the North's provocations. "We detected two projectiles presumed to be cruise missiles fired in Onchon, South Pyeongan Province" on March 21, they said.
They were the North's first missile launches in about a year and could also be designed to remind the new U.S. administration of its existence. But a JCS official said, "The latest firings might be seen as part of its ongoing wintertime military exercise. There is nothing more that we feel the need to explain."
The government of U.S. President Joe Biden also dismissed the launches, saying the missiles were so insignificant that they are not covered by UN sanctions.
Officials told Reuters the Biden administration "was close to a conclusion of its policy review of North Korea and that the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will discuss it next week with his counterparts in Japan and South Korea."
On Tuesday, the government here also downplayed the recent deployment of multiple rocket launchers by North Korea on Changrin Island just north of the Northern Limit line in the West Sea.
The deployment arguably nixes a cross-border military agreement from 2018 that commits the neighbors to a wider buffer zone. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister Yo-jong last week threatened to scrap the agreement.
Changrin Island lies only 40-50 km from South Korea's Baeknyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands. There are more than 20 military barracks there, and the 122 mm-caliber rocket launchers are pointed at the South Korean islands.
They have a range of 65 km, compared to coastal guns' mere 20 km, which puts the two South Korean islands easily within range and effectively invalidates the military agreement to cease "hostile" activity near the border.
But Defense Ministry spokesman Bu Seung-chan told reporters on Tuesday, "It doesn't seem appropriate to conclude that a mere deployment of specific weapons is a violation or incapacitation of the 2018 military agreement. Such a thing isn't even included in the agreement."
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