South Korea accused North Korea Tuesday of flouting a United Nations ban with its latest short-range missile tests, amid reports the communist state is planning more launches.
The North Monday launched five missiles off its east coast despite making a series of peace overtures to the United States and South Korea in recent weeks.
Analysts said they could be part of routine exercises, but may also be a show of firepower for political purposes.
The North is under pressure to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks which it quit in April, a month before it staged a second nuclear test.
The South’s Yonhap news agency said there were signs the North was preparing later Tuesday for more launches, this time off the west coast.
Japan’s coast guard said the North had warned of “firing exercises” day and night until October 25 in the Yellow Sea.
Pyongyang nevertheless agreed Tuesday to Seoul’s request for talks on various issues.
They will meet Wednesday to discuss flood prevention in a cross-border river, and on Friday for talks on humanitarian issues including family reunions, according to Seoul’s unification ministry
The North on September 6 released millions of tonnes of water from a dam across the Imjin river, sweeping away six South Koreans camping or fishing downstream.
Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Jung Ok-Keun told South Korean lawmakers the KN-02 missiles fired Monday have a range estimated between 130-160 kilometres (80-100 miles), greater than the 120 kilometres previously believed.
The foreign ministry said the launches breached UN Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests, and urged the North not to repeat them.
Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama said that if the launch reports were correct, “I think it’s very regrettable.”
China was less concerned. “I believe that this will not affect the improving situation on the Korean peninsula,” said foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.
Monday’s missile tests were the first for over three months. They came a week after leader Kim Jong-Il, in talks with visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, expressed conditional willingness to return to the six-party talks.
But Kim insisted on first holding direct negotiations with the United States to improve “hostile relations.”
Washington has said it is open to bilateral talks but only to bring the North back to six-party negotiations, which are hosted by China and also group the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan.
The latest launch operation appears part of regular military exercises but also has a political motive, said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.
“It is designed to take the upper hand in future negotiations with the US, not South Korea,” he told AFP.
The North in recent weeks made conciliatory gestures both to Washington and Seoul after months of fiery rhetoric and rising military tensions.
It freed five South Korean detainees, eased curbs on the operations of a joint industrial estate and sent envoys for talks with President Lee Myung-Bak.
It also resumed a reunion programme for families separated by the 1950-53 war, after a lapse of two years.
Hundreds of separated relatives held tearful and brief reunions two weeks ago and South Korea wants the reunions to become regular events.
A media report said the South was considering resuming food aid, which was suspended as ties soured.
Chosun Ilbo newspaper, quoting an unidentified government official, said Seoul was mulling providing its hungry neighbour with up to 30,000 tonnes of food — much smaller than annual shipments in previous years. S.Korea may resume food aid to North.
The unification ministry said no decision would be made before the results of the inter-Korean talks later this week were studied.