North Korea fired a short-range missile into the sea early Tuesday, Seoul and Tokyo officials said, in the latest weapon tests by Pyongyang that raised questions about the sincerity of its recent offer for talks with South Korea.
The launch is the latest in a series of mixed messages from the North, coming days after leader Kim Jong Un's influential sister Kim Yo Jong, a key adviser to her brother, dangled the prospect of an inter-Korean summit.
But she insisted that "impartiality" and mutual respect would be required, calling for the South to "stop spouting an impudent remark".
She condemned as "double standards" South Korean and US criticism of the North's military developments, while the allies build up their own capacities.
In recent days, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has only months left in office, reiterated at the UN General Assembly his longstanding calls for a formal declaration of an end to the Korean War.
The North invaded the South in 1950 and hostilities ceased three years later with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving them technically still in a state of conflict.
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes.
US condemns launch, but says it poses 'no immediate threat'
The US State Department said on Monday that it condemns North Korea's missile test which poses a threat to neighbours and the international community, and urged Pyongyang to return to stalled denuclearisation talks.
The US army said the launch posed no immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or US allies, the US military said in a statement on Monday.
"The missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of DPRK's illicit weapons program," the US Indo-Pacific Command said in the statement, using the acronym for North Korea's official name.
North Korea accuses US of hostility
North Korea on Monday accused the United States of hostility and demanded the Biden administration permanently end joint military exercises with South Korea even as it continued its recent streak of weapons tests apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul over slow nuclear diplomacy.
Its ambassador to the United Nations insisted that it had the right to test weapons.
"Nobody can deny the right to self-defense for the DPRK," Kim Song told the UN General Assembly in New York.
"We are just building up our national defence in order to defend ourselves and reliably safeguard the security and peace of the country."
'Heinous human rights abuser'
Pyongyang has already carried out several missile launches this month, one involving a long-range cruise missile and another which the South's military called short-range ballistic missiles.
Seoul also successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile for the first time, making it one of a handful of nations with the advanced technology.
Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been at a standstill since a 2019 summit in Hanoi between leader Kim and then-president Donald Trump collapsed over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return.
Subsequently, the North has repeatedly excoriated the South and its President Moon and blown up a liaison office on its side of the border that Seoul had built.
"It looks like North Korea wants to see how genuine Seoul is when it comes to its willingness to improve inter-Korean ties -- and to officially end the Korean War," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.
"Pyongyang will monitor and study Moon's reaction after today's launch and decide on what they want to do on things such as restoring the inter-Korean hotline," he added.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that it is willing to meet North Korean officials anywhere, at any time, without preconditions, in its efforts to seek denuclearisation.
But the North has not shown any willingness to give up its arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion.
On Monday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency carried an article calling the United States "the most heinous human rights abuser in the world" for its sanctions policies on various countries.
The North was also due to open a session of its rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly, on Tuesday.
(FRANCE24 with AFP, REUTERS, AP)