U.S. Defense Chief Arrives in South Korea Amid News of North’s Missile Launches

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s welcome present was waiting for him when he touched down here on Thursday: confirmed reports that North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its western coast two days before his first visit to South Korea as President Obama’s defense chief.

South Korean officials informed their American counterparts that the North on Tuesday fired two surface-to-air missiles from Pyongwon County in South Pyongan Province. The missiles flew only a few miles before plunging into the sea, defense officials said.

Mr. Carter, who arrived here for talks with his South Korean counterparts over security measures on the Korean Peninsula, said the missile launch demonstrated how tense the region remained.

“If it was a welcome message to me, I’m flattered,” he told reporters in Japan before boarding his flight to South Korea.

A senior defense official, speaking to reporters aboard Mr. Carter’s plane, called the North Korean action “provocative.” He said that “you’ll have to ask the North Koreans” why they conducted the missile test so close to the arrival of the American defense secretary in South Korea, but he added that “these are the kinds of provocative acts that the alliance is designed to respond to,” referring to the military alliance between the United States and South Korea.

The official said the Pentagon believed that the North Korean nuclear threat was growing.

North Korea is officially banned from conducting ballistic missile tests by United Nations resolutions but routinely does so anyway, often to express anger. The North fired a series of short-range missiles into the sea last week to register its dislike of annual United States-South Korea military drills. The North also flouted United Nations resolutions the month before by launching two Scud-type ballistic missiles offshore, as the United States and South Korea began their annual joint military drills. At the time, the North Korean military issued a statement warning that it would “never remain a passive onlooker” to the annual joint war games, called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

The exercises involve tens of thousands of South Korean and American troops.


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