North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles Thursday, South Korea's Defense Ministry said, a move that aggravates the already high tensions following Pyongyang's recent nuclear test and U.N. sanctions imposed as punishment.
The missiles were fired from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan on Thursday afternoon, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity citing department policy. He did not say what types of missiles were launched, but the Yonhap news agency said they were ground-to-ship missiles.
North Korea had earlier called for a no-sail zone in waters off its east coast through July 10 for military drills. That designation was viewed as a prelude to such missile tests.
The new launches are expected to exacerbate the tensions running high since Pyongyang's May 25 underground nuclear test and a series of missile firings. The U.N. Security Council adopted a tough sanctions resolution last month to punish the communist regime.
"We had expected that they will fire short-range missiles at any time," South Korea's Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told The Associated Press at a reception held at the U.S. ambassador's residence to mark U.S. Independence Day, which falls this weekend. "It's not a good sign because they are demonstrating their military power."
The United States is seeking Chinese support to enforce the U.N. sanctions. Philip Goldberg, who is in charge of coordinating the implementation of sanctions against the North, was to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing on Thursday, the U.S. Embassy said.
Separately, China's top nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, left Thursday for Russia as part of diplomatic efforts to push North Korea back to the stalled nuclear disarmament talks, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The trip will also take Wu to the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, the ministry said. The five nations have engaged in the talks since 2003 in an effort to persuade the North abandon its nuclear programs in return for economic aid and other concessions.
"The purpose of Wu Dawei's visit is to exchange views with relevant parties on the nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a regular press briefing.
Earlier in the day, Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported that North Korea could fire a barrage of missiles in coming days, including ballistic Scud or Rodong rockets that the North is banned from testing under U.N. resolutions.
North Korea has also threatened to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile. Last month, a Japanese newspaper reported that the North could test-fire a long-range missile toward Hawaii as early as July 4. The U.S. has increased defenses around Hawaii.
But Seoul's YTN television news network said Thursday that there are no signs of an imminent long-range missile launch.
The reported missile moves came after a North Korean ship - suspected of possibly carrying illicit weapons - changed course and was heading back the way it came after remaining under U.S. surveillance for more than a week.
The North Korean ship is the first vessel monitored under the new U.N. sanctions that seek to clamp down on Pyongyang's trading of banned arms and weapons-related material by requiring U.N. member states to request inspections of ships suspected of carrying prohibited cargo.
The North has said it would consider the interception of its ships a declaration of war.
Separately, North and South Korea ended their latest talks over a troubled joint industrial project without progress, and didn't set a date for the next round, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.
The two sides "failed to narrow their differences," during their meeting in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, Chun said.
The two Koreas have been at odds over the fate of a South Korean worker who has been detained in the North since March for allegedly denouncing its political system. The North has rejected Seoul's repeated calls for the worker's freedom. It has also demanded that South Korean companies sharply increase wages for North Korean workers and fees paid for the use of the land.
As relations with South Korea have deteriorated, the North has halted all key joint projects except for the South Korean-run complex at Kaesong, a prominent symbol of past attempts at reconciliation.
Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim, Hyung-jin Kim and Kelly Olsen contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
This program aired on July 2, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.