WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Monday appeared to play down North Korea's six short-range missile launches over the past three days, describing tensions on the Korean peninsula as relatively low.
Pyongyang has defended its short-range missile launches as legitimate military drills. The North frequently fires short-range missiles, although the current spate of launches has drawn criticism from South Korea. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called the launches provocative.
Pentagon spokesman George Little acknowledged U.S. concerns that the launches could be construed that way but said, "I'm not ready to make the call yet."
North Korea test-fired a long-range rocket in December, a move that critics said was designed to test technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The North conducted its third nuclear test in February and it ratcheted up threatening rhetoric in April during U.S.-South Korean military drills.
But tensions have subsided since then, Little noted.
"A few months ago, we saw underground nuclear tests, we saw long-range missile tests, we saw heated rhetoric," Little said. "So I think we can safely say that we remain in a period of tensions that are relatively on a small scale by comparison."
The comments came the same day the U.S. military announced it would test-fire its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile on May 21.
The last scheduled test of the missile was scrapped in April because of concerns over tensions with North Korea.
The Minuteman III test launch will take place between 3:01 and 9:01 a.m. (PST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The unarmed missile is expected to travel 4,190 miles to the Marshall Islands, the Air Force's Global Strike Command said in a statement.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Doina Chiacu)