North Korea on Wednesday test-fired two medium-range ballistic missiles, South Korea said, a defiant challenge to a meeting by the leaders of rivals South Korea, Japan and the United States that focused on the North's security threat.
The launch of what are believed to be Rodong missiles would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and marks a big escalation from a series of shorter-range rocket launches the North has staged in recent weeks to protest ongoing annual military drills by Washington and Seoul that the North claims are invasion preparation.
It would be the North's first launch of this type of missile since 2009, said South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.
Kim told reporters that that the missiles flew about 650 kilometresz off North Korea's east coast early Wednesday morning. It wasn't immediately clear where the missiles splashed down. Kim said the missiles were likely fired from a mobile launcher.
The North's arsenal of an estimated 300 Rodong missiles could in theory be fitted with nuclear warheads — once Pyongyang masters the ability to miniaturize atomic bombs — and, with a range of up to 1,300 kilometres (800 miles), could reach Tokyo and key U.S. military bases in Japan.
The launch comes on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul and other nations blame on a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang denies involvement in the attack, which killed 46 sailors. It also poses a big challenge to what had been recently improving relations between Pyongyang and Seoul.
A year after threatening each other with war, the bitter rivals had restored some trust and held reunions of families divided by the Korean War of the early 1950s. The Korean Peninsula remains officially at war because that war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.