North Korea fires projectiles into sea; U.S., China urge return to talks

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea launched multiple projectiles into the sea on Monday as part of firing drills, according to South Korea’s military, drawing U.S. and Chinese appeals for Pyongyang to return to talks on ending its nuclear and missile programs.

Launched a week after North Korea resumed missile tests following a three-month break, the projectiles, including from a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS), flew up to 200 km (124 miles) and reached 50 km in altitude, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

Hopes were raised for dialogue when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met U.S. President Donald Trump for a historic summit in Singapore in June 2018. But no significant progress has been made despite two more meetings between the leaders.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said: “We continue to call on North Korea to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization‎.”

U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at least four projectiles had been detected. One of the officials said that according to initial information that could change, there were five projectiles, three short-range missiles known as the KN-25 and the other two were KN-09.

China’s foreign ministry called for all sides to use dialogue and show flexibility, saying the situation was “complex and sensitive”.

“We also urge parties to make positive efforts to calm the situation for talks to continue, and to realize the denuclearization and lasting peace in this region and the peninsula,” spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing.

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The South Korean JCS expressed “strong regret” at the launches and South Korea’s presidential Blue House called the drills “unhelpful” for Korean peninsula peace efforts.

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said the projectiles appeared to be ballistic missiles and did not fall into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium raised North Korea’s recent launches at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, calling them provocative actions that violated U.N. resolutions.

North Korea’s foreign ministry criticized the European stand as “U.S.-instigated reckless behavior” and Kim’s sister said the drills were not meant to threaten anyone.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Hyonhee Shin, additional reporting by Chris Gallagher in Tokyo, Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Howard Goller