North Korea test fires rockets in Thanksgiving reminder of year-end deadline for U.S.

North Korea test fires rockets in Thanksgiving reminder of year-end deadline for U.S.
By Hyonhee Shin and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – Breaking a month-long lull in missile tests, North Korea fired two short range projectiles into the sea off its east coast on Thursday in what appeared to be the latest try out its new multiple rocket launchers, South Korea’s military said.

The test-firing came as the clock ticks down on the year-end deadline that Pyongyang had given the United Stated to show flexibility in their stalled denuclearization talks.

It also coincided with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and took place one day before the second anniversary of the North’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the North fired the two projectiles into the sea from launchers in the eastern coastal town of Yonpo at around 5 p.m. (0800 GMT).

The rockets traveled up to 380 km (236 miles) and reached an altitude of 97 km (60 miles), the JCS said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was a threat to not only Japan but the region and beyond, though his defense ministry said the projectile did not enter Japanese airspace or its Exclusive Economic Zone.

“We will remain in close contact with the United States, South Korea and the international community to monitor the situation,” Abe told reporters.

The launch is the first since Oct. 31, when the North tested what it called super-large multiple rocket launchers, which had also been used in tests conducted in August and September that were overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

South Korea’s military expressed “strong regret,” urging the North to stop stoking military tension.

“Such acts by North Korea are unhelpful for efforts to ease tension on the Korean peninsula,” Jeon Dong-jin, director of operations at the JCS, told a news briefing.

LOOMING DEADLINE

Kim has set an end-of-the-year deadline for denuclearization talks with Washington, but negotiations have been at an impasse after a day-long working level meeting on Oct. 5 ended without progress.

North Korea has been demanding the lifting of sanctions that are hobbling its economy, and its leader Kim Jong Un set the deadline for Washington to show more flexibility in April, raising concerns he could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said last week the year-end deadline was an artificial one, but could mean a return to “provocative” steps that preceded the past two years of diplomacy.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election next year, has repeatedly held up the suspension of long-range missile and nuclear bomb tests as a major achievement of his engagement with North Korea.

Analysts believe Pyongyang is trying to send a Thanksgiving reminder to the United States by demonstrating progress in weapons development on the anniversary of the 2017 ICBM test.

“Today’s launch fit a North Korean pattern of escalating pressure on Washington and Seoul ahead of Kim Jong-un’s year-end deadline,” said Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

North Korean officials have warned the United States to abandon its hostile policy toward the North or Pyongyang would walk away from the talks.

The North has demanded the lifting of sanctions against it and the abandonment of joint military drills by the United States and South Korea, which it calls preparations for an invasion.

The test also comes a week after South Korea pulled back from a decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, a key element of security cooperation between the key U.S. allies in the region.

On Thursday, the Pentagon referred Reuters to the U.S. Forces Korea for comment. The State Department and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Naomi Tajitsu and William Mallard in Tokyo; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Former Boston College student charged over boyfriend’s suicide pleads not guilty

BOSTON (Reuters) – A former Boston College student pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of involuntary manslaughter stemming from what prosecutors said was her role in encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide.

A lawyer for Inyoung You, 21, entered the plea on her behalf during a hearing in Suffolk County Superior Court after she returned from South Korea to face charges brought last month over the May 20 suicide of her college boyfriend, who leaped to his death from a parking garage hours before his graduation.

Prosecutors point to thousands of text messages that You exchanged with Alexander Urtula as evidence showing she was physically, verbally and psychologically abusive to the 22-year-old and told him to “go kill himself” and to “go die.”

“These text messages demonstrate the power dynamic of the relationship,” Assistant District Attorney Caitlin Grasso said in court.

Prosecutors say an investigation found that You used attempts and threats of self-harm to herself to control Urtula and isolate him from friends and family. They say she was also aware of his suicidal thoughts when she encouraged him to kill himself.

Urtula spent the night before his death with You in her dorm room, Grasso said.

After Urtula the next day texted her and his brother saying he was going to take his own life, You used her cellphone to track his location to a parking garage in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and was on its roof when he jumped, Grasso said.

Earlier this week, You through a public relations firm released to the Boston Globe text messages she exchanged with Urtula the day of his death suggesting she tried to stop him and sought to have his brother intervene.

The allegations bore similarities to the high-profile Massachusetts case of Michelle Carter, who was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter and accused of goading her teenage boyfriend into committing suicide with text messages and phone calls.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld her conviction in February. Her lawyers call the case an “unprecedented” instance of someone being convicted involuntary manslaughter based on words alone and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un supervises air drills while U.S. and South Korea postpone drills: KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean media reported on Monday that leader Kim Jong Un supervised air force drills for the second time in three days, even as the United States and South Korea decided to postpone their joint air drills to ease denuclearisation talks with North Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea said on Sunday they would postpone upcoming military drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea. Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, already planned to be scaled back from previous years, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea to test readiness.

On Monday, North Korean state news agency KCNA said Kim supervised an airborne landing training of sharpshooter sub-units of the Air and Anti-Aircraft Force of the North Korean army.

Kim “said that it is necessary to wage a drill without notice under the simulated conditions of real war” for “improving the preparedness” of North Korean military units, KCNA said.

On Saturday, KCNA had reported that Kim watched a “combat flight contest” of the flight commanding officers of the Air and Anti-Aircraft Force. A photo in state newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed him smiling amid pilots gathered around him.

It was unclear when Kim oversaw these events, or whether it was on the same day. There were no mention of U.S. or South Korea in the KCNA reports.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told Kim, “You should act quickly, get the deal done” with the United States, and signed off “See you soon!” on Twitter.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Tom Brown)

North Korea rebuffs U.S. offer of December talks, urges halt in military drills

North Korea rebuffs U.S. offer of December talks, urges halt in military drills
By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Thursday it had turned down a U.S. offer for fresh talks, saying it was not interested in more talks merely aimed at “appeasing us” ahead of a year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for Washington to show more flexibility in the negotiations.

Kim Myong Gil, the North’s nuclear negotiator, said in a report carried by state media that Stephen Biegun, his U.S. counterpart who jointly led last month’s failed denuclearization talks in Stockholm, had offered through a third country to meet again.

Kim and Biegun met last month in the Swedish capital for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to re-open negotiations that have been stalled since a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

But the Stockholm meeting fell apart, with Kim Myong Gil saying the U.S. side had failed to present a new approach.

“If the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the U.S. at any place and any time,” Kim Myong Gil said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

But he called Biegun’s proposal a “sinister aim of appeasing us in a bid to pass with ease” Pyongyang’s year-end deadline. “We have no willingness to have such negotiations.”

North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, but the United States has insisted Kim Jong Un must dismantle his nuclear weapons program first.

JOINT DRILLS

The North Korean statement came after General Mark Milley, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, reaffirmed that the United States was ready to use the “full range” of its capabilities to defend South Korea from any attack.

Senior U.S. defense officials are gathering in Seoul for annual meetings as the two countries face intensifying threats from North Korea to stop joint military drills.

The United States is also seeking a greater financial contribution from South Korea for hosting American troops, while urging Seoul to revoke its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan known as GSOMIA, which Washington worries would undermine trilateral cooperation.

Milley met his South Korean counterpart General Park Han-ki for the annual Military Committee Meeting (MCM) on Thursday.

Both sides discussed ways to maintain solid defense posture and a planned transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea, a joint statement said, even as they have scaled back joint exercises to expedite negotiations with North Korea.

Milley reiterated the “continued commitment to providing extended deterrence”, the statement said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was arriving in Seoul later on Thursday, ahead of a meeting with South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo for the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) on Friday.

Esper said on Wednesday he was open to changes in U.S. military activity in South Korea if it helped diplomats trying to jump-start stalled talks with North Korea.

Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who led negotiations in the run-up to the Vietnam summit, said late on Thursday that he hoped Esper meant to completely halt the joint drills.

Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who led negotiations in the run-up to the Vietnam summit, said late on Thursday that Esper meant to completely halt the joint drills.

“I assess his comment reflected Trump’s thinking and was part of the U.S. side’s positive efforts to revive the momentum for talks,” he said in a statement carried by KCNA.

“But if … the hostile provocation against us is carried out, we won’t help but responding with shocking punishment that the United States can’t afford.”

Pyongyang has decried the U.S.-South Korea exercises as hostile, even in the current reduced form. On Wednesday, it threatened to retaliate if the allies go ahead with scheduled drills in a rare statement from the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body chaired by leader Kim Jong Un.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute think-tank, said the North’s statement appeared to be aimed at justifying future North Korean military actions.

Milley has hinted at raising the troop cost-sharing and Japan issues, though the joint statement did not address them directly.

Trump’s insistence Seoul take on a greater share of the cost of the 28,500-strong U.S. military presence as deterrence against North Korea has rattled South Korea. It could also set a precedent for upcoming U.S. negotiations on defense cost-sharing with other allies.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

North Korea warns of retaliation against U.S-South Korea military drills

North Korea warns of retaliation against U.S-South Korea military drills
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threatened on Wednesday to retaliate if the United States goes ahead with scheduled military drills with South Korea, ramping up pressure on Washington to change course as a year-end North Korean deadline for U.S. flexibility approaches.

The statement came even though Washington said last week that the joint aerial exercise planned for next month would be reduced in scope from previous drills.

“It is self-defense rights” to retaliate against any move which threatens its sovereignty and security, according to a statement from the State Affairs Commission, without elaborating.

It is rare for the commission, the supreme governing body chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to release a statement.

Last week, a senior North Korean diplomat also blamed the U.S. joint aerial drill for “throwing cold water” over talks with Washington. Pyongyang opposes U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, viewing them as a rehearsal for invasion.

In its latest statement, Pyongyang said it had taken measures to calm Washington’s concerns but that the United States had failed to reciprocate, leaving it with a “feeling of betrayal.”

Asked to comment on the North Korea statement, the U.S. State Department made no reference to the military exercises, but a spokeswoman referred to an agreement reached between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.

“President Trump remains committed to making progress toward the Singapore commitments of transformed relations, building lasting peace, and complete denuclearization,” she said.

Immediately following his first meeting with Kim, Trump made a surprise announcement that the United States would suspend military drills with South Korea. Since then, major exercises have been halted or scaled back.

Kim in April gave the United States a year-end deadline to show more flexibility in stalled denuclearization talks.

This statement followed the collapse of his second summit with Trump in Hanoi in February, and has raised concerns that North Korea could return to nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017.

North Korea has tested the limits of engagement with a string of short-range missile launches, and analysts say it appears to have been emboldened to toughen its approach by the impeachment inquiry into Trump in Washington.

Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers presented dueling narratives on Wednesday as the congressional impeachment inquiry threatening Trump’s presidency entered a crucial new phase with the first televised public hearing.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea launches two suspected missiles after warnings to Washington

North Korea launches two suspected missiles after warnings to Washington
By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two suspected missiles into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan on Thursday, according to military officials in Japan and South Korea, ending nearly a month-long lull in testing after denuclearization talks stalled.

The launches, which Japanese authorities identified as likely ballistic missiles, were the first since one day of talks between the United States and North Korea ended without an agreement on Oct. 5 in Sweden.

American officials have played down previous missile launches this year, saying they were short-range weapons.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set an end-of-the-year deadline for denuclearization talks with Washington, however, and in a statement on Sunday North Korea said it would be a mistake for the United States to ignore that deadline.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of a North Korean missile launch. We are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in Japan and South Korea.”

Analysts said the launches underscore how tense the situation has become after three meetings between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump – unprecedented top-level contact between the countries – failed to lead to any agreement over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Make no mistake, if there is no change in the current trajectory of U.S.-North Korea relations there is only one possible outcome: a long-range missile or nuclear weapons test by Pyongyang that will spark a crisis just like in 2017,” said Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington.

TWO PROJECTILES FIRED

The first of two “unidentified projectiles” was fired on Thursday at 4:35 p.m. local time (0735 GMT) from South Phyongan Province, in the center of North Korea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a series of statements. A second projectile was detected at 4:38 p.m. (0738 GMT).

The projectiles traveled an estimated 370 kilometers (230 miles) and reached an altitude of 90 km (56 miles), the JCS said, calling them “short range”.

“Objects that appeared to be ballistic missiles were launched from North Korea,” Japan’s defense ministry said in a statement. “They did not land within our territory.”

An American air base at Misawa, 1,130 km (700 miles) north of Tokyo, posted a “real world missile alert” and urged personnel to seek shelter, before later issuing an “all clear”.

The afternoon launch timing was a departure from this year’s string of tests, which usually took place around dawn.

On Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed military source as saying that movements of transporter erector launchers (TEL), used to fire missiles, had been detected in North Korea.

South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting after the launch on Thursday, and expressed its concern about what it called “short-range projectiles”.

“Our military is maintaining a readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related developments in preparation for another launch,” the JCS said in a statement after the launches on Thursday.

The JCS called on North Korea to stop the launches because they were “unhelpful” for reducing tensions on the peninsula.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, said the launches could be a so-called “running test fire” of a recently developed multiple-rocket system, with the aim of fine-tuning the system for full production.

RISING TENSIONS

The launches occurred on the day that South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the funeral of his mother, who died on Tuesday.

In a message delivered via the border village of Panmunjom late on Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim had expressed “deep condolences” and “consolation” over Moon’s loss, Moon’s office said on Thursday.

Relations between the two Koreas have cooled since a flurry of personal meetings between Moon and Kim last year, and denuclearization negotiations between North Korea and the United States appear stalled.

On Sunday, North Korea said there had been no progress in North Korea-United States relations.

North Korea has tested several new missile designs this year, including a new submarine-launched ballistic missile fired from a platform in the sea on Oct. 2.

It says the missiles are necessary to defend against new warplanes and weapons acquired by South Korea, including the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet.

North Korea has also accused the United States and South Korea of continuing hostile policies, including military drills.

On Monday, South Korea began its annual Hoguk military exercises, which it says are for self defense.

North Korean state media, however, strongly criticized the drill as practice for invading the North, and said “South Korean military warmongers are driving the situation into an extreme one.”

Experts have said several of the new missiles tested this year by North Korea are designed to potentially evade missile defense systems deployed in South Korea and Japan.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee, and Josh Smith in Seoul, Ritsuko Ando and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry)

Officials arrest 338 in child porn bust on dark web

Officials arrest 338 in child porn bust on dark web
By Andy Sullivan and Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Law enforcement officials said on Wednesday they had arrested hundreds of people worldwide after knocking out a South Korea-based dark web child pornography site that sold gruesome videos for digital cash.

Officials from the United States, Britain and South Korea described the network as one of the largest child pornography operations they had encountered to date.

Called Welcome To Video, the website relied on the bitcoin cryptocurrency to sell access to 250,000 videos depicting child sexual abuse, authorities said.

Officials have rescued at least 23 underage victims in the United States, Britain and Spain who were being actively abused by users of the site, the Justice Department said. Many children in the videos have not yet been identified.

The site’s vast library – nearly half of it consisting of images never seen before by law enforcement – is an illustration of what authorities say is an explosion of sexual abuse content online. In a statement, Britain’s National Crime Agency said officials were seeing “increases in severity, scale and complexity.”

Welcome To Video’s operator, a South Korean named Jong Woo Son, and 337 users in 12 different countries, have been charged so far, authorities said.

Son, currently serving an 18-month sentence in South Korea, was also indicted on federal charges in Washington.

Several other people charged in the case have already been convicted and are serving prison sentences of up to 15 years, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Welcome To Video is one of the first websites to monetize child pornography using bitcoin, which allows users to hide their identities during financial transactions.

Users were able to redeem the digital currency in return for “points” that they could spend downloading videos or buying all-you-can watch “VIP” accounts. Points could also be earned by uploading fresh child pornography.

‘BOTTOM FEEDERS OF CRIMINAL WORLD’

“These are the bottom feeders of the criminal world,” said Don Fort, chief of criminal investigation at the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which initiated the investigation.

The Justice Department said the site collected at least $370,000 worth of bitcoin before it was taken down in March 2018 and that the currency was laundered through three unnamed digital currency exchanges.

Darknet websites are designed to be all-but-impossible to locate online. How authorities managed to locate and bring down the site isn’t clear, with differing narratives by different law enforcement organizations on the matter.

Fort said the investigation was triggered by a tip to the IRS from a confidential source. However, Britain’s National Crime Agency said they came across the site during an investigation into a British academic who in October 2017 pleaded guilty  to blackmailing more than 50 people, including teenagers, into sending him depraved images that he shared online.

In a statement, British authorities said the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit deployed “specialist capabilities” to identify the server’s location. The NCA did not immediately return an email seeking clarification on the term, which is sometimes used as a euphemism for hacking.

The U.S. Justice Department gave a different explanation, saying that Welcome To Video’s site was leaking its server’s South Korean internet protocol address to the open internet.

Experts pointed to the bust as evidence that the trade in child abuse imagery could be tackled without subverting the encryption that keeps the rest of the internet safe.

Officials in the United States and elsewhere have recently begun prodding major technology firms  to come up with solutions that could allow law enforcement to bypass the encryption that protects messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage, citing the fight against child pornography as a major reason.

Welcome to Video’s demise “is a clear indication that in cases like this, where there’s very low-hanging fruit, breaking encryption is not required,” said Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

He said the bust showed that law enforcement could also track criminal activity that employs cryptocurrency transactions.

“There’s a lot of a people who have this perception that bitcoin is totally anonymous,” Parsons said, “and it’s been the downfall of many people in many investigations.”

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

Putin says Russia will make new missiles, warns of arms race

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 5, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Vladimir Soldatkin

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would produce missiles that were banned under a landmark Cold-War era nuclear pact that ended last month, but that Moscow would not deploy them unless the United States did so first.

Speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, Putin said Moscow had urged the United States to de-escalate a spiraling arms race between the former Cold War foes, but that Washington had not responded.

The Russian leader said he was concerned by U.S. talk of deploying missiles in Japan and South Korea, a deployment he said would cover parts of Russian territory.

Tensions over nuclear arms control have been rising after Washington formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) pact last month accusing Russia of violating it, allegations Moscow denied.

Last month the United States tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit a target more than 500 km away, a test that would have been prohibited under the INF.

The pact banned land-based missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

“…Of course we will produce such missiles,” Putin told an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok. He repeated a pledge by Moscow not to deploy any new missiles unless the United States does so first.

“We are not happy about the fact that the head of the Pentagon said that the United States intends to deploy them in Japan and South Korea, this saddens us and is a cause for certain concern,” Putin said.

Putin said he offered U.S. President Donald Trump in a recent phone call the chance to buy one of the hypersonic nuclear weapons Moscow is developing. He said Trump spurned the offer and replied that Washington was making its own.

Putin said he feared that an arms race could spread into space and that Washington could develop a new space weapon.

(Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin, Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Japan, South Korea agree on need for dialogue to resolve feud on wartime labor and Fukushima

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono pose for photo ahead of the ninth trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting among China, South Korea and Japan at Gubei Town in Beijing, China, 21 August 2019. Wu Hong/Pool via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Ami Miyazaki

TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea on Wednesday agreed on the need for dialogue to resolve a feud over compensating Korean wartime workers that has spilled into trade and put a deep chill on ties between Washington’s two biggest Asian allies.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, speaking after talks with South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, said both sides shared that view over the dispute, which is a bitter legacy of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

“In that sense, I want to firmly make progress towards resolving (this matter),” Kono said outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, in comments carried live on Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

“I think the fact that we … were able to talk in this difficult situation could lead to big progress towards resolving this problem,” Kono said. “I want to stay in close touch and continue to talk.”

A South Korean official said both sides reiterated their positions but the meeting was meaningful in restoring diplomatic dialogue and reaffirming the need to keep talking, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

Relations soured after the South Korean Supreme Court ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Korean wartime workers last October, a move strongly condemned by Tokyo, which says the matter was resolved by a 1965 treaty normalizing ties.

The feud has spilled over into trade, after Japan tightened export controls on materials vital to South Korean chipmakers and then dropped Seoul from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports, prompting South Korea to take a similar step towards Japan.

The number of South Korean tourists visiting Japan fell last month to its lowest in nearly a year, amid a far-reaching boycott of Japanese products and services, from cars to beer and tours.

Kang again urged that Japan’s tightened controls be eased, and relayed concerns about media reports and international environmental groups’ claims that Japan plans to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, Yonhap said.

Kono also said Japan wanted Seoul and Tokyo to maintain a military intelligence-sharing pact that could expire if South Korea decides not to roll it over this week.

“This is an important framework for the United States, Japan and South Korea and … should be maintained,” Kono said, adding that he had discussed the intelligence pact with Kang.

Though Kang declined to comment after the meeting whether South Korea would renew the deal, Kim Sang-jo, policy chief of President Moon Jae-in, said on Wednesday that Seoul would continue consideration “until the last minute”.

Kono urged both China and South Korea to scrap their import curbs on produce from areas around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster site, where three reactors suffered melt downs after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Seoul said on Wednesday it would double radiation testing of some Japanese food imports, for fear of contamination from the Fukushima plant.

An official of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Japanese food products were safe and increased radiation testing was unnecessary.

(Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore)

North Korea fires missiles, derides South Korea’s Moon as ‘impudent’

People visit the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea, in this undated photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 16, 2019. KCNA/ via REUTERS

By Josh Smith and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea launched at least two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, South Korea’s military said, shortly after Pyongyang described South Korea’s president as “impudent” and vowed that inter-Korean talks are over.

The North has protested against joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, largely computer-simulated, which kicked off last week, calling them a rehearsal for war. It has also fired several short-range missiles in recent weeks.

North Korea fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast on Friday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

Japan’s defense ministry said it did not see any imminent security threat from the latest projectile launch.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial information indicated at least one projectile was fired by North Korea and appeared to be similar to the short-range missiles fired in previous weeks. Another official said the United States was consulting with South Korea and Japan.

An official at Seoul’s defense ministry said the latest test involved ballistic technology and detailed analysis was under way with the United States with the possibility that the North fired the same type of missiles it used on Aug. 10.

The missiles were launched shortly after 8 a.m. Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) and flew around 230 kms (142 miles) to an altitude of 30 kms (18 miles), South Korea’s JCS said.

The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Those denuclearization talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them made at a June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Earlier on Friday, Pyongyang rejected a vow by South Korean President Moon Jae-in a day earlier to pursue talks with the North and to unify the two Koreas by 2045.

The loss of dialogue momentum between the North and South and the stalemate in implementing pledges made at an historic summit between their two leaders last year was entirely the responsibility of the South, a North Korean spokesman said.

The unidentified spokesman repeated criticism that the joint U.S.-South Korea drills were a sign of Seoul’s hostility toward the North.

“We have nothing to talk any more with the South Korean authorities nor have any idea to sit with them again,” the North’s spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The committee manages relationships with the South. The rival Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce rather than a peace treaty.

South Korea’s unification ministry called North Korea’s comments about Moon “not in line” with inter-Korean agreements and unhelpful for developing relations between them.

After an emergency meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council held to discuss the launches, officials reiterated that the joint drills are simply an opportunity to evaluate whether South Korea could eventually assume wartime control of the allied forces on the peninsula.

‘IMPUDENT GUY’

Moon and Kim have met three times since April last year, pledging peace and cooperation, but little progress has been made to improve dialogue and strengthen exchanges and cooperation.

“North Korea makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust when it interprets restraint as weakness and looks to exploit divisions within South Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Seoul and Washington should continue to seek working-level talks with North Korea but the allies should also prepare new sanctions and renewed military cooperation if Pyongyang continues to violate United Nations resolutions and threaten its neighbors, Easley said.

The South’s Moon said in a Liberation Day address on Thursday it was only through his policy of Korean national peace that dialogue with the North was still possible.

“In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken,” Moon said in a speech marking Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

The North’s spokesman described Moon as an “impudent guy” who is “overcome with fright”.

He said Moon had no standing to talk about engagement with the North because of the ongoing military maneuvers.

“His open talk about ‘dialogue’ between the North and the South under such a situation raises a question as to whether he has proper thinking faculty,” the spokesman said.

It was “senseless” to think that inter-Korean dialogue would resume once the military drills with the United States were over, he said.

However, the spokesman left open the possibility of talks with the United States.

Trump and Kim have met twice since their first summit in Singapore last year and said their countries would continue talks. However, little progress has been made on the North’s stated commitment to denuclearize.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, Chris Gallagher in TOKYO, and Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)