North Korea on Sunday fired a short-range ballistic missile toward the sea in a test for activities that appear to be in response to ongoing military exercises between the US and South Korea.
The North’s continued missile testing shows that the country is not deterred by US-South Korea exercises, which it sees as an invasion probe, although many experts suggest the tests could also be part of the North’s larger goal of its arsenal expand and gain international recognition as a nuclear state and the lifting of international sanctions.
The missile, which was launched from the northwestern Tongchangri area, flew over the country and landed in the sea off its east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese estimates, who reported the missile traveled a distance of about 500 miles. This range suggests the missile could target South Korea.
The top nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan and the United States sharply condemned the missile launch as a provocation threatening peace on the Korean peninsula and in the region. According to the Seoul Foreign Ministry, they agreed in a phone call to step up their coordination to send a firm international response to the North’s testing activities.
NORTH KOREA SAYS ICBM LAUNCH WAS A ‘WARNING’
The South Korean military said its joint drills with the US were continuing and it was ready to respond to any provocation from the North. During Sunday’s drills, the US flew at least one B-1B long-range bomber for joint air training with South Korean fighter jets, according to South Korea’s defense ministry.
North Korea is wary of using B-1Bs capable of carrying a large payload of conventional weapons. The country had responded to B-1B flights in February by firing test missiles at ranges that showed they could reach some military airfields in South Korea.
According to Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino, the missile landed outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. He said there were no reports of damage to ships or aircraft in the area and the missile was likely showing an erratic trajectory, a possible reference to North Korea’s highly maneuverable, nuclear-capable KN-23 missile.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said Sunday’s launch posed no immediate threat to US territory or its allies. But it said the North’s recent launches “highlight the destabilizing effect of its illicit” weapons programs and that the US Security commitment to South Korea and Japan remain “iron”.
The launch marked the North’s third round of weapons tests since the US and South Korea began joint military exercises on Monday. The drills will include computer simulations and field exercises and are expected to last through Thursday. The joint exercises are the largest of their kind since 2018.
US-SOUTH KOREA DRILLS DETER NORTH KOREA, PENTAGON CLAIMS HOURS AFTER NORTH KOREA LAUNCHES ICBM
North Korea has recently tested weapons, including its longest-range Hwasong-17 ICBM, which is set to hit the US mainland. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the launch was carried out to “terrify enemies,” according to state media.
A launch on Thursday, the North’s first ICBM firing in a month, sparked strong opposition from the South Korean, Japanese and US governments as it came just hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol flew to Tokyo for a summit with the US government Japanese Prime Minister was Fumio Kishida.
Yoon and Kishida agreed during the summit to resume talks on defense and further strengthen security cooperation with the US to counter North Korea.
North Korea has missiles that put Japan within striking distance. In October, North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile over northern Japan, forcing communities to issue evacuation warnings and halt trains.
Kishida on Sunday issued a response to North Korea’s launch that includes close cooperation with South Korea and the US
The North had also fired cruise missiles from a submarine the day before the military drills began. According to North Korean state media, these missiles were a demonstration of its commitment to respond with “overwhelming force” to US and South Korean military exercises.
The US and South Korea plan to conduct further training with a US aircraft carrier later this month after completing their current drills, suggesting North Korea is likely to respond to those drills with additional weapons tests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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