Seoul, South Korea ( Associated Press) — North Korea on Wednesday conducted an at-sea test of a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile and two short-range weapons, South Korea said, hours after the end of President Joe Biden’s visit to Asia, where He reaffirmed America’s commitment to defending its allies in the face of the North’s nuclear threat.
If confirmed, it would be North Korea’s first ICBM launch in nearly two months amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. The latest launch shows the North is determined to continue its efforts to modernize its weapons arsenal despite its first COVID-19 outbreak, which has raised external concerns about a humanitarian disaster.
“The continued provocation of North Korea could strengthen and intensify the South Korea-US joint deterrence and further deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” South Korea’s government said in a statement after the emergency security meeting. ”
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called the launches “an act of provocation and completely unacceptable”. The US Indo-Pacific Command has previously said that the missile launches highlight the “destabilizing effects of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program”, although they did not pose an immediate threat to the US territory and its allies.
According to South Korea’s military, three missiles were fired one after another on Wednesday morning before landing in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.
A military statement said the first missile was likely an ICBM and that it traveled 360 kilometers (223 mi) to reach a maximum altitude of 540 kilometers (335 mi). The second missile at some point disappeared from South Korean radar and the third missile flew 760 kilometers (472 mi) at an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 mi), the statement said.
Flight details for the suspected ICBM were similar to those of two previous North Korean launches, which South Korean and US forces have said were to test components of the North’s largest-ever Hwasong-17 missile, which flew medium-range, Category not complete. North Korea said the two launches at the time were to test cameras for a spy satellite.
After two earlier launches, in March South Korea’s military discovered what it said was a North Korean Hwasong-17 missile that had been detonated shortly after lift-off. Later in March, North Korea claimed to have successfully launched the Hwasong-17 in its first full-range ICBM flight test, breaking its self-imposed 2018 moratorium on long-range launches.
South Korea said that North Korea may have fired a small ICBM, not Hwasong-17. Whatever the case, the missile flies longer and higher than any other weapon the North has ever tested and has the potential to reach the entire US mainland, experts say.
Lee Choon Geun, Honorary Research Fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said it is possible that the North tested Hwaseong-17’s booster first stage and other technical elements to avoid another failure in a full-range test. Can go
Chang Young-Keun, a missile specialist at Korea Aerospace University in South Korea, said North Korea’s earlier two launches of its detonated missile were aimed at testing the cluster engines. Noting that, he said he doubted whether North Korea will launch an ICBM again on Wednesday because the country has had to conduct the same tests over and over again and cost around 10-20 billion ($8-16 million). There will be no reason to waste the ICBMs.
Chang said the flight details of the third missile were similar to the hypersonic missile that North Korea tested in January. Other analysts say it could also be North Korea’s highly maneuverable, nuclear-capable KN-23 missile.
Lee said there is less ambiguity about what North Korea was trying to portray by combining ICBMs and short-range missiles. He said North Korea has called for nuclear strikes on both the US mainland and its allies in Asia, after Biden emphasized America’s commitment to defending South Korea and Japan during his recent visits to those countries. Respond by demonstrating ability.
“(The launch) was a political message. They are saying they feel bad” about Biden’s recent summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Chang said.
Biden and Yoon said after their meeting on Saturday that they would consider expanding military exercises to deter North Korea’s nuclear threats.
Biden dismissed questions about any possible provocation by North Korea during his visit, saying, “We stand ready for whatever North Korea does.” Biden later met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, and they vowed to work together to address security challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic programs and China’s “increasingly coercive” behavior in the region. .
Following the North’s launch, South Korean and US forces said they fired two surface-to-surface missiles to demonstrate their striking capabilities. Seoul officials said the allies had already figured out the preparations for North Korea’s launch. South Korea’s air force held an “elephant walk” Tuesday involving 30, fully armed F-15K fighter jets, parading along a runway, he said.
Wednesday’s launch was North Korea’s 17th round of missile firing this year. Experts have said North Korea wants to move forward to modernize its weapons arsenal and put more pressure on its rivals to secure sanctions relief and other concessions amid passive nuclear diplomacy.
US, South Korean and Japanese officials have said North Korea may soon conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years. Yun’s deputy national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo told reporters on Wednesday that North Korea is testing trigger systems for nuclear explosive devices and other technologies.
Before Wednesday, North Korea’s most recent missile test was on May 12, when the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak and widely disputed claims of being coronavirus-free for more than two years. terminated.
The country has said over the past few days that there has been a “positive sign” in its anti-virus campaign. Since acknowledging the outbreak, North Korea has identified nearly 3 million cases of unknown fever, but said only 68 people died, a very low death rate for COVID-19. On Wednesday, state media reported no additional deaths from fever for the second day in a row.
Experts say North Korea has limited health resources and may lower the death rate to prevent potential political damage to Kim.
North Korea has so far ignored South Korean and US offers to send vaccines, medicines and other aid materials. Most of North Korea’s 26 million people have not been vaccinated and the country’s once free socialist public health care system has been in shambles for decades.
“At a time when the North Korean people are suffering the pain of a COVID-19 spread, North Korea is using its vital resources to fight the virus and develop nuclear weapons and missiles instead of livelihood-improving measures, which Very sorry,” South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.