NKorea says weapons drill was defensive, criticizes Seoul


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday described its firing of rocket artillery and an apparent short-range ballistic missile over the weekend as a regular and defensive military exercise and ridiculed South Korea for criticizing the launches.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency published a statement by an unnamed military spokesman who called South Korea’s criticism a “cock-and-bull story,” hours before senior defense officials from South Korea, United States and Japan met in Seoul to discuss the North Korean launches and other security issues. A separate statement by a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the launches as a “routine and self-defensive military drill.”

South Korea’s presidential Blue House and Defense Ministry have raised concern that Saturday’s launches went against the spirit of an inter-Korean military agreement reached last year to cease all hostile activities and urged North Korea to refrain from acts that could escalate tensions.

North Korean state media on Sunday showed leader Kim Jong Un observing live-fire drills of long-range multiple rocket launchers and what appeared to be a new short-range ballistic missile fired from a launch vehicle. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff a day earlier said it detected North Korea firing multiple projectiles toward the sea from near the eastern town of Wonsan.

The launches, which likely represented North Korea’s first ballistic missile launch in more than 500 days, were clearly a sign of Pyongyang’s frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament. They also highlighted the fragility of the detente between the Koreas, which in a military agreement reached last September vowed to completely cease “all hostile acts” against each other in land, air and sea.

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The North Korean statements implied that Saturday’s weapons launches counter joint military drills conducted by the United States and South Korea in March and April. The North also criticized the test of a U.S. Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile from a U.S. Air Force base in California last week.

While the United States and South Korea have stopped their annual large-scale military exercises and replaced them with smaller exercises since last year to create room for diplomacy, the North has still criticized the South for continuing joint drills with the United States.

The statement by the North Korean military spokesman said the South’s military has “no qualification” to vilify the North when they “staged a provocative combined air drill against the sovereign state together with the U.S.” and kept silence about the Minuteman test that it said was meant to threaten the North.

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