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North Korea Fires 5 Short-Range Missiles: Report

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea reportedly test-launched five short-range missiles – and may fire more – in what analysts said is an attempt to improve its bargaining position ahead of possible talks with the United States.

North Korea has recently reached out to the U.S. and South Korea following months of tension over its nuclear and missile tests earlier this year. Leader Kim Jong Il told visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last week that his government might return to stalled six-nation negotiations on its nuclear program depending on the outcome of direct talks it seeks with the United States.

Washington has said it is considering holding talks with North Korea as part of efforts to restart the six-party negotiations.

Yonhap, citing a South Korean official it did not identify, said the KN-02 surface-to-surface missiles were fired from mobile launch pads and had a range of up to 75 miles (120 kilometers). It said North Korea launched two missiles in the morning and three more in the afternoon.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday confirmed the missile launches, but declined to identify the number and types of missiles fired on Monday off North Korea's east coast – the first since July, when the North test-fired seven missiles.

South Korea also has detected evidence that North Korea is preparing to fire short-range missiles off its west coast and has announced a no-sail zone there, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified government official.

South Korea's Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Belfast on Monday that American efforts to resume the nuclear talks with North Korea will proceed despite the new tests.

"Our goal remains the same," she told reporters after a meeting with Northern Irish business leaders. "Our consultations with our partners and our allies continues unabated. It is unaffected by the behavior of North Korea."

Clinton was to fly later to Moscow to meet with Russian leaders on a variety of issues, including nuclear reduction concerns.

South Korea's YTN television network carried a report similar to Yonhap's. It quoted an unidentified government source as saying North Korea had announced a no-sail zone in areas off the country's east and west coasts for Oct. 10-20 – an apparent indication the country could carry out more missile tests.

The reported launches appeared to be aimed at displaying North Korea's missile capability to bolster its negotiating hand ahead of talks with the U.S. and other countries to wrest more concessions, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, agreed and added that North Korea was unlikely to take more drastic steps such as its April long-range rocket test or May nuclear test.

Meanwhile, North Korea agreed to hold two sets of working-level talks with South Korea, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said Tuesday, a day after Seoul proposed the talks.

Officials from the two sides plan to meet Wednesday at a North Korean border city to discuss how to prevent Imjin River flooding from running through their heavily armed border, Lee said.

She also said Red Cross societies of the two sides plan to hold talks Friday to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Ties between the two Koreas soured after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office early last year with a pledge to get tough with the North's government. Tensions further heightened after North Korea conducted its long-range rocket and nuclear tests.

The Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, which means that the two Koreas are still technically at war.

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Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang in Seoul and Matthew Lee in Belfast contributed to this report.