North Korea fires suspected missile into sea amid stalled talks

North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into its eastern sea on Tuesday, its second launch in a week, following calls from leader Kim Jong-un to expand its nuclear weapons program in defiance of international opposition .

The launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that highlighted how North Korea continues to expand its military capabilities during a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired what was likely a ballistic missile from the area of ​​its northern province of Jagang. He said the weapon traveled 700 kilometers at a top speed of around Mach 10 before landing in the waters off its east coast.

He said the launch was a “clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions and demonstrated more advanced capability than North Korea’s previous launch last week. Northern state media described the launch as a successful test of a hypersonic missile, a type of weapon they claimed to have first tested in September.

South Korean officials did not provide a specific missile type assessment, but some experts said North Korea may have retested its alleged hypersonic missile in response to the downplaying of its previous test by the South Korean army.

North Korea did not immediately comment on Tuesday’s test.

The South Korean military’s K-9 self-propelled howitzers are preparing to move to Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea on Tuesday. (Ahn Young-joon / The Associated Press)

Japan’s Defense Ministry said the suspected ballistic missile landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were checking the safety of ships and planes around Japan, but there were no immediate reports of disruption or damage.

“It is extremely regrettable that North Korea continued to fire” missiles so soon after the UN Security Council discussed its response to the previous North launch, Kishida said.

South Korea expresses “strong regret” over testing

The Security Council held closed-door consultations on Monday during the launch last week, but took no action. Ahead of the talks, the United States and five allies issued a statement urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The South Korean presidential office said Tuesday’s launch was discussed at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, which expressed “strong regret” over the continued testing of North Korea and the urged to resume talks.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an “immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies,” but stressed the destabilizing impact of Korea’s weapons programs. North.

The launch came six days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea in what it later described as a successful test of a hypersonic missile.

Seoul’s defense ministry said after the test that North Korea had exaggerated its capabilities and tested a conventional ballistic missile that the South was able to intercept. The ministry said it doubts North Korea has acquired the technologies needed for a hypersonic weapon.

Cheong Seong-Chang, senior analyst at the Sejong Private Institute in South Korea, said North Korean leaders were said to have been “exasperated” by South Korea’s assessment of last week’s launch and may have planned a series of tests in order to make his threat credible.

Economy strained by sanctions, pandemic

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability. Such weapons were on a wishlist of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled early last year, as well as multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles, and nuclear missiles. launched by submarines.

Experts say North Korea is probably years away from acquiring a credible hypersonic system.

North Korea’s previous test on Jan.5 came days after Kim pledged at a key political conference to bolster its military forces, even as the nation grapples with pandemic challenges which have further strained its economy, paralyzed by the sanctions led by the United States on its nuclear program.

Economic setbacks have left Kim little to show for his diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which derailed after their second meeting in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s request for major relief sanctions in exchange for a partial cession of its nuclear capacities.

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