North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile into the sea on Sunday in what appeared to be a response to US-South Korean military exercises.
The North, which continues its missile tests, shows the country is undeterred by the US-South Korean drills, which it views as a rehearsal for an invasion, although many experts believe the tests may also be part of the North’s broader aim to expand its weapons arsenal, gain international recognition as nuclear power and remove international sanctions.
The missile, which was launched from the northwestern district of Tongchangri, flew across the country and landed in the sea off the east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese estimates, which said the missile traveled about 500 miles. This range suggests that the missile could be aimed at South Korea.
Top nuclear officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States strongly condemned the missile launch as a provocation that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and the region. In a phone call, the two agreed to strengthen their coordination to mount a firm international response to the North’s test activities, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
NORTH KOREA SAYS ICBM LAUNCH WAS ‘WARNING’
South Korean army said that his joint exercises with the US would continue and that he would be ready to respond to any provocation from the North. According to South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the US sent at least one B-1B long-range bomber for joint aerial exercises with South Korean military aircraft during the exercise on Sunday.
North Korea is wary of deploying B-1Bs, which are capable of carrying a large payload of conventional weapons. The country responded to the B-1B flights in February with long-range test launches of missiles that showed they could reach some military air bases in South Korea.
According to Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino, the missile fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. He said there were no reports of damage to ships or aircraft in the area and that the missile likely showed an irregular trajectory, possibly referring to North Korea’s highly maneuverable, nuclear-powered KN-23 missile.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said Sunday’s launch did not pose an immediate threat to US territory or its allies. However, it said North Korea’s recent launches underscored the “destabilizing influence of its illicit” weapons programs and that the U.S. commitment to the security of South Korea and Japan remained “ironclad.”
The launch was North Korea’s third round of weapons tests since the US and South Korea began joint military exercises on Monday. The exercise includes computer simulations and field exercises and is expected to last until Thursday. The joint exercise is the largest since 2018.
US-SOUTH KOREA EXERCISES CONTINUE NORTH KOREA, PENTAGON SAYS HOURS AFTER NORTH KOREA LAUNCHES ICBM
North Korea recently tested weapons, including the longest-range Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile, designed to hit the US mainland. According to state media, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the launch was carried out to “instill fear in the enemies”.
Thursday’s launch, North Korea’s first ICBM launch in a month, drew strong opposition from the governments of South Korea, Japan and the United States as it came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol flew to Tokyo for a summit with the Prime Minister of Japan. Fumio Kishida.
During the summit, Yun and Kishida agreed to resume defense talks and further strengthen security cooperation with the US to counter North Korea.
North Korea has missiles capable of hitting Japan. In October, North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile over northern Japan, prompting evacuation orders and halting train services.
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On Sunday, Kishida released a response to North Korea’s launch that includes close cooperation with South Korea and the United States
The day before, the North also fired cruise missiles from a submarine military exercises began. According to North Korean state media, the missiles were a demonstration of its desire to respond with “overwhelming force” to US-South Korean military exercises.
The U.S. and South Korea plan to hold more drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier later this month after their current drills conclude, suggesting North Korea is likely to respond to the drills with more weapons tests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.