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N. Korea Launches 2 Missiles; White House Vows to 'Do What We Have Done in the Past'

Kim Jong Un follows the launch of a long-range rocket that blasted off from Tongchang-ri in North Korea's northwestern coast on Feb. 7, 2016. (Kyodo)

WASHINGTON — The White House confirmed today that North Korea conducted more “provocative actions” in “a flagrant violation of their international obligations.”

“U.S. Strategic Command did, in fact, detect and track what we assessed were two North Korean missile launches yesterday. The missiles were tracked over the Sea of Japan, where initial indications are that they fell,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing. “NORAD was also monitoring the launches and determined that they did not pose a threat to North America.”

“But I do think that the impact of these provocations will be to only strengthen the resolve of the international community that has such serious concerns with North Korea’s behavior,” he added.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that, of the test launches of the two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles, at least one appeared to have been unsuccessful.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the first missile was launched at 5:58 a.m. and was unsuccessful, followed by a second launch at 8:05 a.m. “The second Musudan-like missile flew about 400 km,” the JCS said without elaborating. “South Korea and the United States are carrying out an in-depth analysis on it.”

Yonhap cited military sources saying that the first missile “burst into pieces in the air after flying some 150 km.”

“The South Korean military reportedly concluded that the second missile soared to an altitude of some 1,000 kilometers, which could indicate the country has improved the performance of the Musudan missile’s engine,” the news agency added.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is believed to have watched the launches.

Pyongyang began testing the Musudan this April.

Washington’s response?

“The United States will do what we have done in the past, which is work with the international community, particularly our allies in South Korea and Japan,” Earnest said. “We’ll also continue our ongoing dialogue with the Chinese and the Russians about what additional pressure can be applied to the North Koreans. And the key here will be to continue to work with our allies and partners to address this destabilizing threat in Northeast Asia.”

“It certainly would be in their interests” to stop testing missiles, he said.

“Right now this is probably the most isolated country in the world. Their economy is suffering under withering economic sanctions that are not just imposed by the United States and our allies, Japan and South Korea but also have an impact, a significant impact on their economic relationship with countries like Russia and China,” he continued.

“So there’s a clear incentive for the North Korean government to start abiding by their international obligations and living up to the U.N. Security Council resolutions that apply to a situation like this. So but the choice is theirs. It will be a choice that they’ll have to make. Until that time, they’re going to continue to be isolated. Their economy is going to suffer. And as a result of the decisions made by the North Korean government, unfortunately the people of North Korea will suffer.”

Asked if the White House believes Iran is partially funding Pyongyang’s missile program, Earnest replied, “I don’t have an assessment about that situation to share. But we’ll see if we can get you one.”

“Let me just say in general that we have previously expressed significant concerns about the degree to which both North Korea and Iran are contributing to the proliferation of weapons technology that’s dangerous. That’s something that we’ve said in the past,” he said. “I don’t have an updated assessment on that. I don’t have an updated assessment as sort of how those countries have benefited from the actions of the other. We can see if we can provide you with some more information about it.”