SEOUL      -       North Korea on Saturday extended a recent streak of weapons displays by firing what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, according to South Korea’s military. The fifth round of launches in less than three weeks was likely another protest at the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States and the continuance of US-South Korea joint military exercises that the North says are aimed at a northward invasion.

The South’s military alerted reporters to the launches hours after President Donald Trump said he received a “beautiful” three-page letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and predicted that they will have more talks to try resolving the nuclear standoff. Trump reiterated that he was not bothered by the flurry of short-range weapons Kim has launched despite the growing threat they pose to US allies in the region, saying Pyongyang has never broken its pledge to pause nuclear tests. Hours after the latest launches, Trump tweeted that Kim spent much of his letter complaining about “the ridiculous and expensive” US-South Korea military exercises. He said that Kim offered him “a small apology” for the flurry of missile tests, and that he assured him they would stop when the exercises end. Trump said that Kim wants to meet once again to “start negotiations” after the drills conclude, and that he’s looking “forward to seeing Kim Jong Un in the not too distant future!”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the presumed ballistic missiles were fired from the North’s east coast and flew about 400 kilometres (248 miles) on an apogee of 48 kilometres (30 miles), before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Seoul’s presidential Blue House said the tests were likely aimed at verifying the reliability of the North’s newly developed weapons and also demonstrating displeasure over the military drills.

Hours after Saturday’s launches, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency released a statement denouncing South Korea’s recent acquisition of US-made F-35 fighter jets and other plans to expand its military capabilities, saying that the moves deteriorate trust between the Koreas and increase risk of war on the peninsula. The agency said the South will gain “nothing but destruction if it treats (a nation of the same race) with hostility and pursues a contest of strength.”