North Korea fires 3 ballistic missiles as US president considers visit to DMZ

Several former US presidents have visited the DMZ

Two men check their phones as a television screen shows file footage of a North Korean missile test during a news broadcast in Seoul on May 12, 2022, after Seoul's military said it had detected three short-range ballistic missiles fired from near Pyongyang.  AFP

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea and Japan said, in its latest tests aimed at advancing its weapons programmes.

Following the news, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that US President Joe Biden is considering a trip to the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) when he visits Asia later this month.

Mr Biden is expected to visit South Korea and Japan from May 20-24 and hold talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

Ms Psaki said the White House was still finalising details of the Asia schedule but a trip to the heavily fortified DMZ separating North and South Korea is a visit that is made by many who visit the region.

Several former US presidents, and Mr Biden himself before he became president, have visited the DMZ, but former president Donald Trump became the first to meet a North Korean leader there when he held a third meeting with Kim Jong-un in June 2019 as part of his unsuccessful effort to persuade him to give up his nuclear and missile programmes.

The DMZ is often described as the world's last Cold War frontier and has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Ms Psaki repeated a US assessment that North Korea could be ready to conduct a seventh nuclear test as early as this month.

North Korea has not tested a nuclear bomb since 2017, but resumed testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles this year.

“We shared this information with allies and partners and are closely coordinating with them,” Ms Psaki said.

North Korea has recently stepped up weapons tests and resumed intercontinental ballistic missile launches this year for the first time since 2017.

US and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that there are signs of new construction at Punggye-ri, North Korea's only known nuclear test site, and that Pyongyang could soon test another bomb.

In condemning the latest launch, the US State Department said it remained committed to a diplomatic approach with North Korea and reiterated a call for Pyongyang to return to dialogue.

Updated: May 12, 2022, 11:33 PM