North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, the day before former Army Lt. Col. Mark Esper is to head to Asia on his first overseas trip as defense secretary, according to U.S. officials.
A defense official told Fox News the missiles were similar to the projectiles launched twice before in the past week.
The U.S. military is assessing how far and how high the missiles went.
Esper’s first overseas trip as President Trump’s defense chief includes stops in Sydney; Auckland, New Zealand; Tokyo; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; and Seoul, where he will meet with “key leaders to reaffirm defense relationships and conduct bilateral and multilateral meetings with senior officials,” according to the Pentagon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a trip to Asia and is to meet with Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers on Friday morning.
While in Thailand on Thursday, Pompeo said the Trump administration remains ready to resume talks with North Korea. Late last month President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to a meeting in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.
On Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run news agency said a test earlier this week involved a “new-type large-caliber multiple-launch guided rocket system.”
North Korea said Kim supervised the first test launch of the new system, which could improve the Hermit Kingdom’s abilities to strike targets in South Korea and American military bases there.
The launches have been perceived as an effort to pressure the U.S. and South Korean governments to restart the nuclear diplomacy that has stalled for months now.
Such rocket systems, along with new short-range missiles that the regime tested last week, could pose a serious threat to South Korea’s defense.
The state media report didn’t disclose how the new rocket system performed, but noted that the test confirmed the system’s “combat effectiveness.”
France, Germany and the U.K. denounced North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches on Thursday, saying the country violated U.N. sanctions and urging North Korea to engage in “meaningful negotiations” with the U.S. to eliminate its nuclear weapons.
In a joint statement sent to reporters after a closed Security Council briefing, France, Germany and the U.K. said international sanctions should remain and be fully enforced until North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are dismantled, adding that the country needs to “take concrete steps toward its complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”
Fox News’ Nicholas Kalman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.