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  • North Korean military conducts a

    North Korean military conducts a "strike drill" for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 May 2019

Washington has given no sign of willingness to budge on sanctions as the U.S. Justice Department announced the seizure of the cargo vessel it said was involved in the illicit shipping of coal.

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles Thursday in its second such test in less than a week, and the United States announced it had seized a North Korean cargo ship as tensions again mounted between the two countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump said "nobody is happy" at the missile launches, which South Korea said were likely a protest by Pyongyang against Trump refusing to ease economic sanctions on the North.

Meanwhile, the country's foreign ministry said Wednesday that North Korea's "strike drill" last week was "regular and self-defensive."

"The recent drill conducted by our army is nothing more than part of the regular military training, and it has neither targeted anyone nor led to an aggravation of the situation in the region," an unidentified ministry spokesperson said in a statement to the state-run KCNA news agency.

The United States has given no sign of willingness to budge on sanctions and on Thursday the Justice Department announced the seizure of a North Korean cargo vessel it said was involved in the illicit shipping of coal.

North Korea has effectively pulled back from engagement with Washington since a summit between leader Kim Jong Un and Trump in February fell apart without agreement on U.S. demands for the dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear program and Kim's demands for relief from punishing sanctions.

Less than a week ago, Kim oversaw the test-firing of multiple rockets and a missile and the latest tests coincided with a visit to the South Korean capital by U.S. special envoy for NorthKorea, Stephen Biegun.

"North Korea seemed to be discontented it could not reach a deal in Hanoi," South Korea's President Moon Jae-in told South Korean broadcaster KBS, referring to the summit in Hanoi with Trump.

South Korea's Moon said even if the missiles fired on Thursday were short range, they could still violate U.N. resolutions barring North Korea from developing its ballistic missile force.

Even so, Moon said he saw the tests as a sign that North Korea wanted to negotiate, and said he planned to push for a fourth inter-Korean summit with Kim.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who earlier cut short a European trip to return to Washington for meetings on Iran, was also due to have discussions on North Korea after learning of the launches, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

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