SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into its eastern waters on Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese armies said, the first of its kind in about two months as part of international diplomacy in long sleep over the North’s nuclear program.
The latest launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to further strengthen his military capabilities at a high-profile ruling party conference last week.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile at its eastern waters on Wednesday morning. He said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were trying to analyze more information about the launch.
Japan’s Defense Ministry also detected the North Korean launch, saying the country likely fired a missile.
“We find it really regrettable that North Korea has continued to fire missiles since last year,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
Kishida said further details of the North Korean launch were not immediately available, including where the suspected missile landed and whether there had been any damage. He said he ordered authorities to confirm the safety of ships and planes in the area where the suspected missile likely flew and fell.
Wednesday’s launch is the first of its kind since North Korea tested a series of newly developed weapons between September and November, including nuclear-capable missiles that place South Korea and Japan, both of key United States allies in the region, within striking distance. Some experts have said that North Korea is exerting more pressure on rivals to accept it as a nuclear state and relax international sanctions against the country.
The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that it is open to resuming nuclear diplomacy with North Korea “anywhere and anytime” without preconditions. The North has so far pushed back such overtures, saying hostility from the United States remains unchanged.
US-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program collapsed in 2019 amid feuds over sanctions relief to be given to the North in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex. , a limited denuclearization step. Kim has since threatened to expand his nuclear and missile arsenals.
At last week’s plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim reiterated his vows to strengthen his country’s military capacity and ordered the production of more powerful and sophisticated weapon systems. State media reports on the meeting said North Korea had set “tactical directions” for North Korea’s foreign relations, including with South Korea, but did not give details. . He made no mention of the United States.
Kim marked 10 years in office last month. Since taking control after the death of his father and longtime ruler Kim Jong Il in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has established absolute power in his country and beefed up his nuclear and missile arsenals. But his country’s economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, UN sanctions and mismanagement, though few experts are questioning his grip on power.
• Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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