North Korea launches 2 missiles toward sea after US-South Korea drills

Seoul, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles at its eastern waters on Sunday, the latest in a recent spate of weapons tests, a day after it warned that relocating a US aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula would ignite regional tensions.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement that they spotted two missile launches from the eastern coastal city of Munchon in the north between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m. Sunday. It added that the South Korean military has strengthened its surveillance position and maintains a readiness in close coordination with the United States.

Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino also confirmed the launches, saying the Pyongyang test activities are “absolutely unacceptable” as they threaten regional and international peace and security.

Ino said the weapons could be submarine-launched ballistic missiles. “We continue to analyze details of the missiles, including the possibility that they were launched from the sea,” Ino said.

North Korea’s pursuit of the ability to launch missiles from a submarine would be an alarming development for its rivals, as such launches are more difficult to detect in advance. North Korea is said to have last tested a missile launch from a submarine in May.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries estimated the missiles flew about 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 90 to 100 kilometers (56 to 60 miles) before falling into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida separately instructed officials to collect and analyze all information they could find and release any updates about the tests to the public. His office said it is also trying to ensure the safety of all planes and ships in waters around Japan while preparing for contingencies.

South Korea’s presidential office said National Security Director Kim Sung-han called an emergency security meeting during the launches, where members reviewed the South’s defense readiness and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with the United States and Japan to counter growing North Korean threats to counteract.

Seoul warned that Pyongyang’s successive provocations would deepen its international isolation and increase “regime instability” by deteriorating its economy and people’s livelihoods.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the launches posed no immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to its allies. But it said the launches underscore “the destabilizing effect” of North Korea’s illicit weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. It said US commitments to defend South Korea and Japan remained “solid”.

The launch, the North’s seventh round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea completed two days of naval exercises off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.

The exercises involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group, which returned to the area after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan last week to protest the carrier group’s earlier training with South Korea.

On Saturday, North Korea’s defense ministry warned that Reagan’s transfer would have a “significantly negative impact” on regional security. The ministry called its recent missile tests a “fair response” to intimidating military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

North Korea views US-South Korean military exercises as an invasion rehearsal and is particularly sensitive when such exercises involve strategic US assets such as an aircraft carrier. North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue a nuclear weapons program to deal with the US nuclear threat. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of attacking the north.

North Korea has launched more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles at over 20 different events this year, exploiting a split in the UN Security Council that has deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine to speed up weapons development.

The record number of tests included the launch of a nuclear-capable missile last week, flying over Japan for the first time in five years. It has been estimated to have traveled approximately 4,500 to 4,600 kilometers (2,800 to 2,860 mi), a distance sufficient to reach the US Pacific Territory of Guam and beyond.

South Korean officials say Pyongyang could soon up the ante by conducting an intercontinental ballistic missile or nuclear test blast, following a traditional pattern of manufacturing diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before offering negotiations to secure concessions. There are also concerns about provocations along Korea’s land and sea borders.

Sunday’s launches came on the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.

Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that put the US mainland, South Korea and Japan within striking distance.

North Korea’s test run shows that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the US and wants to focus on expanding its weapons arsenal. However, some experts say Kim would ultimately aim to use his advanced nuclear program to force major outside concessions, such as recognizing North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim believes is essential to lifting crippling UN sanctions.

South Korean officials recently said North Korea is also ready to test a new liquid-propelled ICBM and a submarine-launched ballistic missile while maintaining a readiness to conduct its first underground nuclear test since 2017. ___ Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. North Korea launches 2 missiles toward sea after US-South Korea drills

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