Easing pressure, North Korea tests long-range missile

Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday fired a suspected long-range missile toward the sea in what will be its first test since 2017, according to the armies of its neighbours, in a pressure campaign to step up the East. is on purpose. To get the United States and other adversaries to accept it as a nuclear power and to remove severe sanctions.

The launch, which spurred North Korea’s weapons testing this year, comes as US and South Korean forces said the country was preparing to fly its largest intercontinental ballistic missile ever.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately say whether the weapon involved in the launch was ballistic or how far it had flown. But Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said the missile, which traveled 1,100 kilometers (660 mi) while reaching a maximum altitude of more than 6,000 kilometers (3,728 mi), was likely a new ICBM. The flight description suggested that the missile was fired at a higher angle than normal to avoid reaching Japan’s territorial waters.

Japan’s Coast Guard, which had warned ships in nearby waters about the possibility of falling objects, said they believed the missile could nearly avoid landing in waters outside the country’s exclusive economic zone. flew an hour ago. There were no immediate reports of damage to boats or aircraft.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency National Security Council meeting, in which he criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for breaking the self-imposed moratorium on ICBM tests and calling for a “determination” for the region and the wider international community. grave danger”. Moon directed officials to pursue “all possible response measures” based on his alliance with the United States and cooperation with other international partners, his office said.

“Even as the international community is responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, North Korea is forcing its missile launches, which could escalate unilateral provocations,” Oniki said.

After a highly provocative streak in nuclear explosives and ICBM tests in 2017, Kim unilaterally suspended such testing in 2018 ahead of his first meeting with then US President Donald Trump.

North Korea’s weapons test reflects a determination to cement its position as a nuclear power and to secure badly needed economic concessions from Washington and others, analysts say.

Kim Jong Un may also feel the need to trumpet his military achievements and drum up loyalty to his home audience as he grapples with a broken economy worsened by pandemic border closures.

“Despite the economic challenges and technical setbacks, the Kim regime remains committed to advancing its missile capabilities,” said Leif-Erik Easley, professor of international studies at Seoul’s Iwa Women’s University. “It would be a mistake for international policymakers to think that the North Korean missile threat could be put on the back burner while the world deals with the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Some experts say the Biden administration’s passive handling of North Korea, while it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and intense rivalry with China, is allowing more room for the North to dial up its testing activity. . The administration’s crackdown on North Korea has so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions imposed over its recent tests and offers of open talks that were quickly turned down by Pyongyang’s leadership.

There are views in Seoul that Washington is slipping back on the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy of ignoring North Korea unless it demonstrates seriousness about nuclear disarmament, although criticism of that approach ignores the nuclear threat. was done for.

It was North Korea’s 12th round of weapons this year and came after suspected artillery pieces were fired into the sea on Sunday.

The North has also tested several new missiles, including an alleged hypersonic weapon and the first launch since 2017 of an intermediate-range missile that has the potential to reach Guam, a major US military center in the Pacific.

It also conducted two medium-range tests in recent weeks from Sunan, home of the country’s main airport, that US and South Korean forces assessed to contain components of the North’s largest ICBMs. Allies had said the missile, which the North calls Hwasong-17, could soon be tested for a full range.

Those tests followed another launch from Sunan last week. But South Korea’s military said the missile was likely to explode soon after launch. The details of the explosion and the potential for civilian damage are unknown.

North Korea’s official media insisted that the two successful tests were aimed at developing cameras and other systems for a spy satellite. Analysts say the North is clearly attempting to simultaneously resume ICBM testing and gain some level of space-based reconnaissance capability under the pretext of a space launch to reduce international backlash for those moves. Is.

The launch could possibly take place around a major political anniversary in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

The North’s previous ICBMs demonstrated the potential range to reach the US homeland during three flight tests in 2017. The development of the larger Hwasong-17, which was first revealed at a military parade in October 2020, probably indicates the purpose of equipping it with multiple weapons. To eliminate missile defense, experts say.

North tested the ICBM for the last time in November 2017, when the Hwaseong-15 flew 1,000 kilometers (600 mi) for about 50 minutes at a maximum altitude of 4,000 kilometers (2,400 mi). It was not immediately clear whether the missile from the latest test was Hwaseong-17.

Nuclear disarmament talks with the US have been stalled since 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for a major release of US-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on January 19, where members of the Politburo issued a veiled threat to end their ICBM suspension, citing US hostility. Eleven days later, the North conducted its first test since 2017 of an intermediate-range missile, signaling the resumption of major weapons testing.

South Korea’s military has also detected signs that North Korea was possibly restoring some of the tunnels at its nuclear test ground, which were detonated weeks before Kim’s first meeting with Trump in May 2018. The military did not say whether it believed the North was restoring the site to resume nuclear testing.

___ Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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