North Korea fired up to two short-range missiles off its west coast Thursday, Yonhap news agency quoted government officials as saying, the second launch in as many weeks, drawing quick criticism from the United States.
South Korea defense ministry official confirmed Pyongyang had fired at least one missile, but could not specify the exact number or type.
White House National Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that the North Korea missile test activity was "not constructive" and Pyongyang should focus on dismantling its nuclear program.
Pyongyang has refused to implement a February 13 deal with South Korea, the United States, Russia, China and Japan under which it agreed to begin shutting down its nuclear programs in return for energy aid.
Analysts say Pyongyang has used the missile tests as a signal to show its impatience with the international community and to make sure that Pyongyang gets the attention it feels it deserves.
"The United States and our allies believe that North Korea should refrain from testing missiles," Johndroe said in a statement to reporters on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.
"We have confirmed that the North has fired a missile," said a South Korea defense ministry official, adding it appeared to be part of regular military exercises.
In late May, the North fired a short-range surface-to-ship missile off its east coast. Both South Korea and US officials dismissed the launch as part of regular military drills.
Asked about the most recent apparent launch, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said: "I am aware of the report but we have not been able to confirm it. Even if it is true, I don't think it poses a grave threat to the security of neighboring countries including Japan."
Yonhap quoted a South Korea government official as saying: "We suspect the number of missiles fired today was one or two. We are working to distinguish the types of missiles."
Normally, missiles fired off the west coast would land in the Yellow Sea which lies between the Korean Peninsula and China.
"Last month when the North fired one missile off the east coast, it had also tried to do the same thing off the west coast," Yonhap quoted the South Korean government official as saying. "It seems like they fired those which they had not fired at the time."
(China Daily via agencies June 8, 2007)