North Korea fires fresh missiles in response to U.S. sanctions

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday in its third weapons launch this month, South Korean officials said, in apparent retaliation for new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration on its launches. continuous trials.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles came from an interior area in the western province of North Pyongan.

Japan’s prime minister’s office and defense ministry also detected the launch, while its coast guard urged ships to watch out for falling objects.

Hours earlier, North Korea issued a statement scolding the Biden administration for imposing new sanctions on its missile tests and warned of stronger and more explicit action if Washington maintains its “confrontational stance.” “.

The sanctions targeted five North Koreans for their role in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the North’s missile test this week. Washington also said it would seek further UN sanctions.

The previous test launch of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday – the second a week – was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un, who said it would greatly increase his country’s nuclear “war deterrent”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The previous test launch of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday was overseen by Kim. (KCNA/Reuters)

North Korea has stepped up testing of new, potentially nuclear missiles designed to overwhelm missile defenses in the region. Some experts say Kim is reverting to a tried-and-true technique of pressuring the world with missile launches and outrageous threats before offering negotiations aimed at securing concessions.

After an unusually provocative run of nuclear and long-range missile tests in 2017 that demonstrated the North’s pursuit of an arsenal that could target the American homeland, Kim began diplomacy with former President Donald Trump in 2018 with the aim of leveraging its nuclear weapons for economic benefits. .

But negotiations were derailed after Kim’s second summit with Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected his demands for major sanctions relief in return for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities.

“Setting a trap” in the United States, according to an expert

Kim has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal that he clearly sees as his best guarantee of survival, despite major setbacks to the country’s economy after its borders were closed during the pandemic as well as lingering sanctions imposed by United States.

His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s open-ended offer to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy” – a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe sanctions and US-Korea joint military exercises.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said North Korea appears to be signaling that it will not be ignored and will respond to pressure with pressure.

“North Korea is trying to trap the Biden administration,” Easley said. “He has lined up missiles he wants to test anyway and is responding to US pressure with further provocations in an effort to extort concessions.”

In a statement released by North Korea’s official Central News Agency, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday defended the launches as a righteous exercise in self-defense.

The spokesman said the new sanctions underscore the hostile intent of the United States to “isolate and stifle” the North. The spokesman accused Washington of maintaining a “gangster-like” stance, saying the North’s development of the new missile was part of its efforts to modernize its military and did not target any particular country or threaten the security of any country. his neighbors.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a critical challenge to missile defenses due to their speed and maneuverability.

Such weapons were on a wish list of sophisticated military assets Kim unveiled early last year, along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and nuclear missiles. launched by submarines.

Tests “deeply destabilizing”, according to Blinken

Still, experts say North Korea would need years and more successful, longer-range tests before acquiring a credible hypersonic system.

In an interview with MSNBC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the North’s latest tests “deeply destabilizing” and said the United States was deeply engaged at the UN and with key partners, including allies. from South Korea and Japan, on a response.

“I think part of it is North Korea trying to get attention. They’ve done that in the past. They probably will continue to do that,” Blinken said. “But we are very focused with our allies and our partners to make sure that they and we are properly defended and that there are repercussions, consequences for these actions by North Korea.”

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