North Korea fires short-range missiles as US envoy visits the South

North Korea fired two short-range missiles on in its second test in under a week. The United States said it seized a North Korean cargo ship as tensions again mounted between the two countries.

North Korea appeared to have fired two short-range missiles, South Korea's military said on Thursday.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the two missiles were fired from the northwest area of Kusong, in an easterly direction, before falling into the sea.

The missile launches came after North Korea carried out a military drill and fired multiple projectiles on Saturday. They also coincided with the arrival of Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy to North Korea, in Seoul for talks with South Korean authorities.

South Korea's presidential Blue House dubbed the missile launches "very worrisome" and a setback to peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula.

Read more: North Korea launches short-range 'projectiles'

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North Korea reportedly fires short-range 'projectiles'

North's 'discontent'

Responding to the Thursday launch, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to refrain from belligerence. "I want to tell North Korea once again that it's not ideal to repeat actions that create various interpretations of its intent, raise concern and risk throwing cold water on the atmosphere of dialogue and negotiations," Moon Jae-in said in an interview with South Korean broadcaster KBS.

Moon suggested that the latest North Korean missile launches could be a result of Pyongyang's displeasure with the protracted talks.

"North Korea seemed to be discontented it could not reach a deal in Hanoi," Moon said.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have not yielded significant results, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blaming the US for the failure of Hanoi talks in February.

Read more: Kim Jong Un says US acted 'in bad faith' at Vietnam talks

Moon, however, sees it as a sign that North Korea wants to negotiate. He said that he plans to push for a fourth inter-Korean summit with Kim.

A summit between Moon and Kim a year ago was instrumental in improving ties between the two Koreas, but Pyongyang has accused Seoul of siding with Washington since the Vietnam summit.

Read more: Putin: Kim needs 'security guarantees' on nuclear deal

President Donald Trump said Thursday the US was looking very seriously at North Korea's latest missile launch.

"We're looking at it very seriously right now. They were smaller missiles, they were short-range missiles," Trump told reporters at the White House.

The US president said that although North Koreans want to negotiate, he does not think that "they're ready to negotiate."

The US also announced Thursday it had seized the North Korea registered bulk carrier M/V Wise Honest, a year after it was detained in Indonesia. The US claimed the ship had been used to illicitly export coal and import heavy machinery.

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Growing tensions

South Korea's military said it was collaborating with the US and had stepped up monitoring after North's Thursday launch.

"We're aware of the reports and monitoring," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn, a spokesman for Pentagon.

Harry Kazianis of the Centre for the National Interest told AFP news agency that the North's latest military actions could worsen already growing tensions.

"Kim's goal, beyond ensuring his weapons programs are becoming more powerful, is quite clear: to show America and its allies that if they aren't willing to compromise on the terms of denuclearization that Pyongyang will indeed go its own way," Kazianis said.

US President Donald Trump had earlier said that he was confident the North wanted to continue its denuclearization dialogue.

"Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it," Trump tweeted.

"He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!" Trump added.

Read more: North Korea test-fires new 'guided weapon'

US sanctions and who they target

Iran

US sanctions on Iran target Tehran's trade in gold and precious metals, block the sales of passenger jets and restrict Iran's purchase of US dollars, among other punitive measures. The US has also blocked Iran's key oil sales in a further tranche of sanctions, which came into force in November 2018.

US sanctions and who they target

North Korea

Impoverished North Korea is under a UN-backed embargo, but Washington also maintains an extensive regime of sanctions of its own. For example, the US strictly bans exporting weapons to the pariah state. Washington also uses its global clout to penalize non-US banks and companies that do business with Pyongyang.

US sanctions and who they target

Syria

Washington trade restrictions prevent the regime of President Bashar Assad from exporting Syrian oil to the US. All property and assets of the Syrian government in the US have been frozen. Americans, wherever in the world they might be, are banned from "new investment" in the war-torn country, according to the US Treasury.

US sanctions and who they target

Russia

The US blacklisted scores of high-ranking Russian officials and businessmen after the 2014 Crimea crisis, stopping them from traveling to the US and freezing their assets. The comprehensive sanctions list includes goods from the Russian-annexed region, such as wine. New sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Skripal poisoning in March 2018 target sensitive national security and defense goods.

US sanctions and who they target

Cuba

American tourists began flocking to Cuba immediately after the Obama administration initiated a thaw in relations in 2016. Under Donald Trump, however, the White House reimposed travel restrictions for US citizens, making it much harder for Americans to travel to the island. At least one Obama-era concession is still in place, however: it is still legal to bring Cuban cigars and rum to the US.

shs/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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