By Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin and David Brunnstrom
SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -North Korea fired at least two ballistic missiles on Friday, drawing both condemnation and an appeal for dialogue from a U.S. administration that has imposed new sanctions over previous North Korean missile launches and is pushing for more.
The third North Korean missile launch in less than two weeks and indignant statements by both sides raised the spectre of a return to 2017's days of "fire and fury" https://www.reuters.com/article/northkorea-missiles-idAFL4N1KU4QA threats before a flurry of diplomacy that stalled and slipped back into a standoff https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa-document-exclusive/exclusive-with-a-piece-of-paper-trump-called-on-kim-to-hand-over-nuclear-weapons-idUSKCN1RA2NR.
The United States condemned the latest launch, saying it posed a threat to North Korea's neighbours and the international community. But in an emailed statement a State Department spokesperson repeated calls for dialogue.
"We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on them to engage in dialogue. Our commitment to the defence of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad," the statement said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.
South Korea's National Security Council held an emergency meeting and expressed "strong regret" over the test and called on Pyongyang to return to talks. The presidential Blue House urged North Korea to respond to calls for dialogue.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had detected what it presumed were two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) launched eastward from Uiju, in North Pyongan province on North Korea's west coast, near its border with China.
Japan's coast guard said North Korea fired what could be a ballistic missile. Japanese broadcaster NHK citing an unnamed Japanese defence ministry official as saying that the landing point was in the sea outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a regular news conference that the repeated ballistic missile launches were "a threat to the safety of our nation and the region, and they are an important issue for all of international society."
The U.S. military's Indo-Pacific Command said while it assessed that the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies, it highlighted the "destabilising impact of the (North's) illicit weapons program."
South Korea's JCS said the missiles travelled about 430 km (267 miles) to a maximum altitude of 36 km (22 miles).
It was the third time North Korea has launched ballistic missiles since New Year's day, an unusually rapid pace of such tests. The previous two launches were of "hypersonic missiles," North Korean state media said, or projectiles capable of high speeds and manoeuvering after launch.
North Korea defended the missile tests as part of its legitimate right to self-defence and said the United States was intentionally escalating the situation with new sanctions, state media said on Friday, citing the foreign ministry.
The ministry said the recent development of a "new type" weapon was just part of efforts to modernise https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-says-leader-kim-attended-successful-hypersonic-missile-test-2022-01-11 defence capabilities, and did not target any specific country or harm the security of neighbours.
The ministry statement warned of an unspecified "stronger and certain reaction" if the United States adopted a confrontational stance.
President Joe Biden's administration imposed its first sanctions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-imposes-sanctions-north-koreans-russian-after-missile-tests-2022-01-12 on Wednesday over North Korea's weapons programmes following a series of missile launches since September.
It has called on the United Nations Security Council to act https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-pushing-more-un-sanctions-north-korea-over-missiles-2022-01-13 against several North Korean individuals and entities accused of violating security council resolutions that ban North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons development.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday the United States had made clear https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/blinken-calls-north-korea-missile-tests-profoundly-destabilizing-2022-01-13 it had no hostile intent toward North Korea and was willing to engage in talks without preconditions, but the tests were "profoundly destabilising."
The North Korean foreign ministry said that while Washington might talk of diplomacy and dialogue, its actions showed it was still engrossed in its policy for "isolating and stifling" North Korea.
Duyeon Kim of the U.S.-based Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think tank said Biden should continue to penalise North Korea for its missile tests and use sanctions to curb funding for weapons programmes, but if so, "We should expect to see more fireworks and provocations."
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo, David Brunnstrom in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Clarence Fernandez and Howard Goller)