US, N. Korean diplomats attend meeting as missiles launched

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 22.06.2016 21:50

Diplomats from the U.S. and North Korea are attending a six-nation security forum in Beijing on Wednesday, in a rare opportunity for contact between them after the North fired two suspected powerful new ballistic missiles. Despite their attendance at the event, the U.S. State Department has said there were no plans for direct talks between the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy Sung Kim, and the deputy director general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Department of U.S. Affairs, Choe Son Hui. The conference is described as a multilateral forum involving high-level policymakers, defense ministry officials, military officers, and researchers from China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States. The nations taking part had participated in years of negotiations on North Korean nuclear disarmament that stalled in 2008. There are few prospects of a resumption of the talks amid the Kim Jong Un government's attempts to assert itself as a nuclear weapons state and heightened tensions following a North Korean nuclear test and rocket launch that drew stiff sanctions. The U.S. and its partners want Pyongyang to recommit to denuclearization before restarting the discussions. The closed-door Beijing conference was organized by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego. The institute calls the dialogue a "regular channel of informal communication among the six governments." Officials participate in the meetings in their private capacity, not as official government representatives.

In a remarkable show of persistence, North Korea on Wednesday fired two suspected powerful new Musudan midrange ballistic missiles, U.S. and South Korean military officials said, its fifth and sixth such attempts since April. Five of those launches failed, many exploding in midair or crashing, and the sixth flew only about 400 kilometers (250 miles), South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, an improvement but still well short of the missile's potential 3,500-kilometer (2,180-mile) range and not long enough to be classified as intermediate. Despite the repeated failures, the North's determination in testing the Musudan worries Washington and its allies, Tokyo and Seoul, because the missile's range puts much of Asia and the Pacific, including U.S. military bases there, within reach. The missile launches flew over the Sea of Japan.

In April, North Korea attempted unsuccessfully to launch three suspected Musudan missiles, but all exploded in midair or crashed, according to South Korean defense officials. Earlier this month, North Korea had another suspected Musudan failure, South Korean officials said. Before April's launches, North Korea had never flight-tested a Musudan missile, although one was displayed during a military parade in 2010 in Pyongyang, its capital. The launches appear to stem from Kim Jong Un's order in March for more nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The order was an apparent response to springtime U.S.-South Korean military drills, which North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.

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