| SEOUL/THE HAGUE, March 26
SEOUL/THE HAGUE, March 26 North Korea fired
missiles into the sea on Wednesday just as U.S. President Barack
Obama brought together the leaders of South Korea and Japan to
discuss how to deal with Pyongyang and to thaw chilly ties
between Washington's two key Asian allies.
The launch of the two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles
began at 2:35 a.m. Japan and Korea time (1735 GMT Tuesday),
Japan and South Korea said - precisely when South Korean
President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
were sitting down with Obama in The Hague.
The firing off North Korea's east coast toward Japan
appeared to be a show of defiance by Pyongyang.
It followed a series of short-range rocket launches over the
past two months, and could help improve cooperation between
Tokyo and Seoul in the wake of the first meeting between Abe and
Park since the Japanese premier took office 15 months ago.
Japan's relations with South Korea, as well as China, has
been strained by what Seoul and Beijing say is Abe's refusal to
properly atone for Japan's wartime past.
North Korea's "provocations and threats" would be met by a
united response, said Obama, who will visit Japan and South
Korea in April.
"It is the first time that the three of us have an
opportunity to meet together (on) some serious challenges that
we all face," Obama said after meeting both leaders on the
sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told
reporters in Seoul that the launches were "a clear violation of
U.N. Security Council resolutions and a grave provocation
against South Korea and the international community".
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told parliament that
Tokyo had protested against the launches through its embassy in
Beijing, while Abe ordered his government to confirm the safety
of airplanes and ships in the area.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera ordered the military to
step up surveillance. U.S. officials also condemned the latest
But Japan's plans to resume high-level talks next week with
Pyongyang, suspended since December 2012, would not be affected,
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
The first Rodong launches in more than four years also come
during annual South Korean-U.S. military drills and on the
fourth anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean navy ship
the Cheonan. Seoul blames North Korea for that attack, but
Pyongyang on Wednesday again denied any role, saying in a
commentary the accusation was "a farce".
Wednesday's missiles fell into the sea after flying 650 km
(400 miles), well short of their maximum range - thought to be
some 1,300 km (800 miles) and enough to hit much of Japan - said
an official at South Korea's office of the Joint Chiefs of
The North was likely "mindful of neighbouring countries'
reaction" in setting the trajectory, the official said, without
The three-way summit in the Hague focused on North Korea,
leaving aside thorny issues between Japan and South Korea.
The three leaders discussed specific steps to deepen
coordination, including military cooperation that included joint
exercises and missile defence, Obama said.
Abe has visited all 10 Southeast Asian countries and met
with their leaders and also met five times with Russian
President Vladimir Putin, but had previously not held talks with
Park since assuming office. Abe has also not met Chinese
President Xi Jinping as premier.
The Japanese leader's December visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni
Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's wartime
militarism, upset not only China and South Korea but also the
United States, which expressed "disappointment".
After the meeting in the Hague, Abe said he wanted to deepen
cooperation with South Korea, Japan's Foreign Ministry said.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul, Steve Holland in
The Hague and Nobuhiro Kubo and Stanley White in Tokyo; Writing
by William Mallard; Editing by Dean Yates)