(SEOUL, South Korea) — The South Korean Defense Ministry says that North Korea fired three short-range guided missiles into waters off its east coast on Saturday, raising concerns about the potential for more military provocation in the region.
Two KN-02 missiles were fired in the morning, followed by another in the afternoon, spokesman Min-seok Kim said.
Unlike the mid-range Musudan missiles which are believed to be capable of traveling more than 1,800 miles, within reach of Japan and South Korea, the missiles launched Saturday only have a range of 75 miles.
Kyodo News, citing an unnamed Japanese official, said the missiles never reached Japanese waters.
North Korea routinely tests short-range missiles, but the launches Saturday came amid signs that diplomacy may finally be cooling tempers on the Korean Peninsula after weeks of warlike threats from Pyongyang.
This past week, Glyn Davies, the State Department’s senior envoy on North Korea, traveled to Beijing, South Korea, and Japan, to discuss all aspects of the North Korea issue. That trip was preceded by a surprise visit to Pyongyang by one of Japan’s most experienced diplomats on North Korea, Isao Iijima.
During his four day trip, Iijima, an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, met with senior officials, including North Korea’s No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam.
Abe has largely remained mum about the secret visit, aimed at restarting talks to bring home Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s, a key hurdle in normalizing bilateral ties.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated to its worst in decades earlier this year, after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February.
Angered by UN sanctions, and joint US-South Korean military drills, Pyongyang threatened nuclear strikes on Seoul and Washington, and unilaterally pulled out of the 60-year-old war armistice that ended the Korean War.
In April, North Korea suspended operations at the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex, pulling out 53,000 workers.
US officials said North Korea withdrew two of their Musudan missiles earlier this month, but Pyongyang renewed threats of a nuclear war last week, following the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
The ship was brought in to the southern port city of Busan for joint US-South Korea naval drills.
North Korea’s state TV called the move an “extremely reckless” provocation, saying “The risk of a nuclear war in the peninsula has risen further due to the madcap nuclear war practice by the US and the South’s enemy force.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Steve Visser and Masoud Popalzai, CNN
Andreas Preuss and Joe Sutton, CNN