North Korea fired two suspected powerful new midrange ballistic missiles on Tuesday that both failed over the Sea of Japan, U.S. officials said.
U.S. Strategic Command spokesman Ltc. Martin L. O’Donnell said in a statement the two launches from the east coast city of Wonsan, which took place at 4:56 p.m. ET and 7:03 p.m. ET, did not pose a threat to North America.
The missiles were tracked over the Sea of Japan, where indications are they fell, according to O’Donnell.
The Musudan missile has a potential 2,180-mile range that could target much of Asia and the Pacific, including U.S military bases in the region. The launch on Tuesday was the fifth Musadan launch by the North Koreans to fail.
State Department spokesman John Kirby condemned the launches, and said the U.S. continues to assess the situation.
“We strongly condemn these and North Korea’s other recent missile tests, which violate UN Security Council Resolutions explicitly prohibiting North Korea’s launches using ballistic missile technology,” Kirby said in a statement.
“These provocations only serve to increase the international community’s resolve to counter the DPRK’s prohibited activities, including through implementing existing UN Security Council sanctions,” he added.
Each new test — apparently linked to a command from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — also likely provides valuable insights to the North’s scientists and military officials as they push toward their goal of a nuclear and missile program that can threaten the U.S. mainland.
Pyongyang earlier this year conducted a nuclear test and launched a long-range rocket that outsiders say was a cover for a test of banned missile technology.
In April, North Korea attempted unsuccessfully to launch three suspected Musudan missiles, but all exploded in midair or crashed, according to South Korean defense officials. Earlier this month, North Korea had another suspected Musudan failure, South Korean officials said.
Before April’s launches, North Korea had never flight-tested a Musudan missile, although one was displayed during a military parade in 2010 in Pyongyang, its capital.
The launches appear to stem from Kim Jong Un’s order in March for more nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The order was an apparent response to springtime U.S.-South Korean military drills, which North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.
Since the end of those military drills, Pyongyang has repeatedly called for the resumption of talks with rival Seoul, even as it pursues new missile development, but the South has rejected the overtures. It wants the North to first take steps toward nuclear disarmament. Pyongyang says its rivals must negotiate with it as an established nuclear power, something Washington and Seoul refuse to do.
The string of recent launch attempts show the North is pushing hard to upgrade its missile capability in defiance of U.S.-led international pressure. The North was slapped with the strongest U.N. sanctions in two decades after it conducted a fourth nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch earlier this year.
Earlier Tuesday, at a Washington briefing, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that if North Korea were to conduct another missile test, it would violate U.N. resolutions and “be another provocative action. So we certainly would urge North Korea to refrain from doing that sort of thing.”
North Korea has recently claimed a series of breakthroughs in its push to build a long-range nuclear missile that can strike the American mainland. But South Korean officials have said the North doesn’t yet possess such a weapon.
The North, however, has already deployed a variety of missiles that can reach most targets in South Korea and Japan, including American military bases in the countries.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea to deter possible aggression from North Korea; tens of thousands more are stationed in Japan.