Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET on 2017-03-06
North Korea test fired a barrage of four missiles Monday, landing the projectiles in waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan amid joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and mounting diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang from allies and foes alike.
The four missiles were fired from Dongchang-ri long-range missile site on North Korea’s west coast, near the North's border with China. They flew more than 1000 km (600 miles) across the country before splashing into the Sea of Japan, South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement to reporters in Seoul.
The launch followed a warning Friday in the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper that Pyongyang would fire more missiles in response to the annual, two-month-long Foal Eagle exercise between Seoul and Washington, which runs through April.
North Korea last fired a ballistic missile on Feb. 12, drawing condemnation from the UN Security Council.
The country is under diplomatic pressure from multiple directions, with China stopping vital imports of coal from its impoverished neighbor and Malaysia locked in a diplomatic dispute with Pyongyang over the assassination on Feb. 13 of leader Kim Jong Un's half brother Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Monday's launch was condemned by South Korea, Japan, Russia, Britain, the European Union, Malaysia and the United States. China, North Korea's only ally, said it opposed missile launches and called for calm on all sides.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in Washington the missile tests are consistent with North Korea's previous "provocative behavior" and the United States would stand with its Asian allies against the threat from Pyongyang.
"The Trump administration is taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea's ballistic missiles such as through the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Korea,"
In Seoul, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president, called for the prompt deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) an advanced American antimissile system that Seoul has agreed to install this year.
“South Korea strongly condemns North Korea’s missile launch today as a direct challenge and grave provocation despite warnings by the international community,” he said.
Japan, which said that three of the four missiles had landed within its exclusive economic zone in waters off northern Akita prefecture, is also moving to improve its missile defense system.
“These missile launches clearly show that North Korea has developed a new threat,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo. “We will collect information and strongly protest to North Korea.”
The United States and Japan called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Security Council to discuss the missile test. The council has adopted six sets of sanctions on North Korea designed to deny Pyongyang the funds and materials it needs to develop its missile and nuclear programs.
"We deplore the continued violation of Security Council resolutions by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), including the most recent launches of ballistic missiles," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.
North Korea has said it is progressing toward its goal of building long-range nuclear ICBM missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland. It was not immediately clear what type of missiles were fired Monday, but military officials in Seoul in Washington said they were not ICBMs.
Reported by RFA's Korean Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.