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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as one of his generals points to a strategic map. The photo appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before. Kim guided the launch and "expressed great satisfaction" at its success, the report said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as one of his generals points to a strategic map. The photo appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before. Kim guided the launch and "expressed great satisfaction" at its success, the report said. (Screenshot from Rodong Sinmun)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as one of his generals points to a strategic map. The photo appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before. Kim guided the launch and "expressed great satisfaction" at its success, the report said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles as one of his generals points to a strategic map. The photo appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before. Kim guided the launch and "expressed great satisfaction" at its success, the report said. (Screenshot from Rodong Sinmun)

Missiles are launched one after the other while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks on in photos that appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before.

Missiles are launched one after the other while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks on in photos that appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before. (Screenshot from Rodong Sinmun)

Missiles are launched one after the other while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks on in photos that appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before.

Missiles are launched one after the other while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks on in photos that appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sept. 6, 2016, with a story about a triple missile test the day before. (Screenshot from Rodong Sinmun)

SEOUL, South Korea — After months of escalating tensions and missile tests, President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to work to tighten U.N. sanctions against North Korea while leaving the door open to dialogue.

His comments came a day after North Korea test-fired three missiles that South Korea’s military said traveled about 620 miles before crashing off the coast of Japan, suggesting that was a last straw.

It was the latest in a series of missile launches, with varying degrees of success, as the North flouts tightened U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed earlier this year after it conducted its fourth nuclear test and sent a satellite into orbit.

On Tuesday the U.N. Security Council once again strongly condemned the North’s missile launches and threatened “further significant measures” if Pyongyang refuses to stop its nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea has continued to flout U.N. sanctions imposed earlier this year after it conducted its fourth nuclear test and sent a satellite into orbit.

“We are going to work diligently together with the most recent U.N. sanctions,” Obama told reporters after a meeting with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye in Laos. “We are going to work together to make sure we’re closing loopholes and make them even more effective.”

North Korea’s leader, meanwhile, declared Monday’s launch a success and promised to continue “bolstering up the nuclear force.”

The remarks were published Tuesday with photographs of a smiling Kim and the fiery missiles taking off in the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Kim was informed about the details of the planned drill, then ordered the commander of the Strategic Force to begin.

“The moment General Kim Rak Gyom shouted ‘Fire!’ ballistic rockets flew into the sky in succession,” it reported, adding the missiles’ performance was considered “perfect.”

The U.N. Security Council, which last month strongly condemned earlier missile launches, was expected to meet later Tuesday to discuss the latest round.

Obama called Monday’s launches “provocations” that violated international law and would lead to further isolation of the communist country, according to The Associated Press.

Threats to tighten sanctions and the imposition of unilateral U.S. measures against leader Kim Jong Un have so far failed to stop the North from pursuing its nuclear weapons program.

But it was the first time since the situation escalated this summer that Obama has promised to work with U.S. allies to tighten the noose.

He also alluded to China, a traditional ally of North Korea that signed onto tightened sanctions in March. Beijing has been angered by U.S.-South Korean plans to deploy an advanced American missile defense system on the peninsula, which it fears could be used against its own military.

Questions also have been raised about Beijing’s willingness to implement the restrictive measures for fear that a collapse of the North Korean regime would lead to instability on its borders.

“President Park and I agreed that the entire international community needs to implement these sanctions fully and hold North Korea accountable,” Obama said of the meeting with his South Korean counterpart.

He stressed, however, that dialogue was still possible if North Korea changes course to recognize its international obligations and enforce the denuclearization of the divided peninsula.

“We do not have any interest in an offensive approach to North Korea,” Obama said.

The missile test occurred on the closing day of a G-20 summit, hours after South Korea’s president met with her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in an effort to persuade him to drop his country’s opposition to the planned deployment of the anti-missile battery known as THAAD.

Seoul and Washington say the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system is needed to guard against the growing missile threat from the North. But Beijing fears its powerful radar could be used against its own military.

Critics also say the system could be rendered ineffective if North Korea unleashes its sizable arsenal of missiles. The allied countries insist the THAAD is only part of a layered defense system that includes lower-altitude Patriots that together would protect the entire country.

Yang Uk, a South Korean defense and security expert, said Monday’s missile test appeared aimed in part to show that the North is capable of firing off multiple projectiles from mobile launchers, which are harder to detect in advance.

“They were trying to show that they can defeat the missile defense systems,” he said.

North Korea has fired missiles simultaneously before, but the earlier efforts saw only one or two take off and they didn’t fly as far. Recent efforts have flown greater distances, including a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Aug. 24 that flew about 310 miles and also landed near Japan.

Experts have warned that Pyongyang is learning from its mistakes and making technical progress toward its stated goal of developing a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S. mainland.

North Korea frequently conducts missile tests during high-profile events. In addition to the summit being held nearby in China, the launches occurred three days after the U.S. and South Korea concluded annual war games and ahead of Friday’s 68th anniversary of the north’s own founding.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry also announced Tuesday that top U.S. and South Korean nuclear negotiators will hold talks in Seoul next week to discuss North Korea’s “repeated military provocations.”

While the impoverished North’s motives for keeping tensions on the front burner all year aren’t clear, there is speculation that leader Kim Jong Un is still trying to consolidate power nearly five years after taking over following his father’s death.

His string of purges, including executions, have continued, and a top-level diplomat recently defected from the country’s embassy in London.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are stationed in the South.

gamel.kim@stripes.comTwitter: @kimgamel


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