North Korea test-fires longest-range missile since 2017

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – North Korea on Sunday fired what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested since US President Joe Biden took office, possibly in violation of a self-imposed suspension on the testing longer-range weapons as it revives the playbook in its campaign to win concessions from Washington and its neighbors amid a prolonged diplomatic stalemate.

The Japanese and South Korean militaries said the missile was launched on a deviated trajectory, apparently to avoid the territorial space of neighboring countries, reaching a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) and a flight of 800 kilometers (497 miles). miles) before landing in the sea. .

Flight details show North Korea tested its longest-range ballistic missile since 2017, when it twice flew intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan and test-fired three ballistic missiles separately. The transcontinental range demonstrates the potential to reach far into the homeland of the United States .

Sunday’s test was North Korea’s seventh launch this month. The unusually rapid pace of the tests shows North Korea’s intention to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled nuclear talks as pandemic-related difficulties take a toll. further shock to an economy disrupted by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, where he described the test as a “medium-range ballistic missile launch” that could bring North Korea to the brink. circumvent the 2018 suspension on testing nuclear and longer-range devices. ballistic missile.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters that the missile is clearly the longest-range weapon North Korea has tested since launching the Hwasong-15 ICBM in November 2017.

The attack came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over a ruling party meeting on January 20, where senior party members threatened to lift sanctions, with the reason they see it as US hostility and intimidation. Kim in April 2018 stated that “no nuclear test and test-firing of intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles” is necessary for North Korea as he pursues diplomacy with the US President. then it was Donald Trump in an attempt to leverage his nuclear weapons for necessary economic gain.

Lee Choon Geun, a missile expert and honorary research fellow at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Policy, said the latest flight details of the rocket showed that North Korea’s ban had been broken. . He said the data showed that North Korea had tested a medium-range ballistic missile or possibly even a weapon that approached the ICBM.

In his strongest comments to North Korea in years, Moon said the situation around the Korean Peninsula is starting to resemble 2017, when North Korea conducted nuclear and long-range missile tests. provocatively led to a verbal exchange of war threats between Kim and Trump.

Moon described North Korea’s latest tests as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and a “challenge to international society’s efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.” , peaceful stability and finding a “diplomatic solution” to the nuclear situation.

According to his office, North Korea “should stop taking actions that cause tension and pressure, and respond to the dialogue requests of the international community including South Korea and the United States.”

Moon, who once aspired to promote inter-Korean engagement, held three summits with Kim in 2018 while also campaigning to set up Kim’s first summit with Trump in 2018, where they offers vague goals for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it will happen. But diplomacy veered off course following the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a waiver. part of the country’s nuclear capabilities.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Sunday’s missile flew for about 30 minutes and landed in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. There were no immediate reports of damage to boats or aircraft.

The launch comes three days after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday. North Korea also tested a pair of long-range cruise missiles on Tuesday, vowing to strengthen its nuclear “war deterrence” capabilities and build more powerful weapons.

Experts say North Korea may suspend the test activity after the Beijing Winter Olympics begin next week out of respect for China, its main ally and economic lifeline. But there are also expectations that North Korea could significantly increase its arms demonstrations when the Olympics conclude in February to attract the attention of the Biden administration, which is focusing more on confrontation. with China and Russia over the conflict with Ukraine.

“North Korea is launching a salvo of missiles before the Beijing Olympics begin, mainly in an effort to modernize its military,” said Leif-Eric. Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“It wants to remind Washington and Seoul that trying to overthrow it would be too costly. By threatening stability in Asia while global resources are shrinking elsewhere, Pyongyang is demanding the world. compensate them for operating as a ‘responsible nuclear power,” added Easley.

North Korea has justified its test as an exercise of its right to self-defence and threatened stronger action after the Biden administration imposed new sanctions following two missile tests. purposeful hypersonication earlier this month.

While desperate for outside relief, Kim has shown no willingness to give up the nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival. Analysts say Kim’s pressure campaign is aimed at coercing Washington into accepting North Korea as a nuclear power and shifting its aid-to-nuclear disarmament diplomacy into reduction negotiations. mutual weapons.

Last year, Kim announced a new five-year plan for weapons development and laid out an ambitious wish list that includes hypersonic weapons, spy satellites, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles. Submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

State media said on Friday that Mr Kim had visited an unidentified weapons factory that produces a “major weapon system” and that the workers pledged allegiance to their leader, who “bravely defeated the challenges of the American imperialists and their vassal forces.”


Yamaguchi reports from Tokyo.

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