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North Korea launches missile at sea amid US, South Korean military drills


North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile towards the sea on Sunday, its neighbors said, stepping up testing activities in response to ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills it sees as a rehearsal for an invasion.

The North’s continued missile testing has shown its determination not to back down, despite the US-South Korea exercises, which are the largest of their kind in years. But many experts say the tests are also part of North Korea’s broader goal of expanding its arsenal of weapons, gaining international recognition as a nuclear state and securing the lifting of restrictions. international sanctions.

The missile launched from the northwest region of Tongchangri flew over the country before landing in waters off its east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese assessments. They said the missile traveled a distance of about 500 miles, a range that suggests the weapon could be aimed at South Korea.

Top nuclear envoys from South Korea, Japan and the United States discussed the launch over the phone and strongly condemned it as a provocation that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and the region. They agreed to strengthen their coordination to issue a strong international response to the North’s action, according to the Seoul Foreign Ministry.

South Korea’s military said it would continue the rest of the joint exercises with the United States and remain ready to respond “massively” to any provocation from North Korea. As part of the drills, the United States flew at least one long-range B-1B bomber on Sunday for joint air training with South Korean fighter jets, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

North Korea is very sensitive to the deployment of B-1Bs, capable of carrying a huge payload of conventional weapons. It responded to the February flights of B-1Bs by launching test missiles, the ranges of which showed they could hit some military airbases in South Korea.

Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and no damage to ships or planes in the area was reported. He said the missile likely showed an irregular trajectory, a possible reference to North Korea’s highly maneuverable, nuclear-capable KN-23 missile, modeled after the Russian Iskander missile.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the latest launch posed no immediate threat to US homeland or its allies. But he said the North’s recent launches highlighted the ‘destabilizing impact of its illegal weapons programs’ and that the US security commitment to South Korea and Japan remained ‘rock-solid’. .

The launch was the North’s third round of weapons tests since the US and South Korean militaries began their joint military exercises last Monday. The exercises, which include computer simulations and field exercises, are due to continue until Thursday. The field exercises are the largest of their kind since 2018.

Weapons North Korea has recently tested include its longer-range Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile designed to strike the American mainland. Northern state media quoted leader Kim Jong Un as saying the ICBM launch was intended to “sow fear in enemies”.

North Korea has missiles that put Japan within range. Last October, North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile over northern Japan, forcing communities there to issue evacuation alerts and halt trains.

After Sunday’s launch, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered a quick response, including working closely with South Korea and the United States, according to Ino, Japan’s deputy defense minister.

A day before the drills began, North Korea also fired cruise missiles from a submarine. Northern state media said the submarine-launched missile was a demonstration of its determination to respond with “overwhelming and powerful” force to the escalating military maneuvers by “US imperialists and puppet forces.” South Koreans”.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.