North Korea says the ICBM launch was in response to rivals’ drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday said its recent ICBM launch should issue a “stronger warning” about combined U.S. military exercises with South Korea, blaming the latter for creating a “most unstable security environment” in the region.

Thursday’s launch from the North Korean capital came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol traveled to Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The meeting underscored Seoul’s urgency to increase security cooperation with another US ally in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat.

The ICBM launch was North Korea’s fourth missile event in about a week as it sparked a response to US-South Korean military exercises, the largest of their kind in years, which began Monday and lasted until March 23.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un monitored the test firing of the Hwasong-17 ICBM from Pyongyang International Airport and stressed the need to “terrify enemies” amid what it described as “open hostility.” denoted the north by the large-scale exercises.

The missile, which was launched at a high angle to avoid the territory of North Korea’s neighbors, reached a maximum altitude of 6,045 kilometers (3,756 miles) and traveled 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) before landing in waters off the country’s east coast landed, the KCNA said.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries had released similar flight details suggesting the missile had potential range to reach the US mainland. It remains unclear whether the North has mastered key technologies to create a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on its long-range missiles or to ensure the warhead survives the harsh conditions of atmosphere re-entry.

KCNA said the ICBM launch drill sends a “stronger warning” to its rivals who are escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula with their “frantic, provocative and aggressive large-scale war drills.” The test should also confirm the reliability of the weapons system, the agency said.

Kim said it is crucial for North Korea’s nuclear missile forces to maintain a readiness to counter rivals with “overwhelming offensive measures at any time” and make them understand that their continued and expanded military actions “pose an irreversible, serious threat to them,” KCNA said.

The launch overshadowed the Yoon-Kishida summit, where leaders agreed to resume defense dialogue and further strengthen their triangular security cooperation with the United States to address North Korea and other regional challenges.

The summit comes after Yoon’s government took a major step to improve bilateral ties marred by historic grievances. It announced plans last week to use local funds to compensate Koreans who won damages in court against Japanese companies that enslaved them before the end of World War II.

Yoon’s plan drew widespread criticism at home, where many South Koreans harbor deep resentments towards Japan for its brutal colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Yoon said dramatic steps are needed to improve ties with Tokyo while urging to strengthen South Korea’s defenses linked to its alliance with the United States.

“The ever-escalating threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear missile program poses a tremendous threat to peace and stability, not only in East Asia but also to the (broader) international community,” Yoon said. “South Korea and Japan must work closely and in solidarity to face the threat wisely.”

North Korea has long portrayed regular US-South Korean military drills as rehearsals for a possible invasion, though allies describe the drills as defensive.

Many experts say North Korea is using its rivals’ exercises as an excuse to aggressively expand its nuclear arsenal and overall military capabilities. They said it wanted to force the US government to accept the North’s status as a nuclear power and negotiate economic sanctions issues from a position of strength.

In addition to the ICBM, the North has been testing cruise missiles from a submarine and launching short-range missiles into the sea since last week to show it could conduct potential nuclear strikes on both South Korean targets and the US mainland.

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