SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea conducted successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state media said on Monday, seen by analysts as a capable weapon. the country’s first nuclear force.
The missiles were “a strategic weapon of great significance” and flew 930 miles before hitting their target and falling into the country’s territorial waters during tests on Saturday and Sunday, KCNA said. .
The latest test showed steady progress in Pyongyang’s weapons program amid deadlocked negotiations to scrap North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in exchange for U.S. approval. sanctions relief. Negotiations have been stalled since 2019.
North Korea’s cruise missiles are generally of less concern than ballistic missiles because they are not explicitly banned under UN Security Council resolutions.
“This will be North Korea’s first cruise missile to be explicitly designated as having a ‘strategic’ role,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. , said. “This is the usual expression for a nuclear-capable system.”
It is not clear if North Korea has mastered the technology needed to make a warhead small enough to be carried on a cruise missile, but leader Kim Jong Un said this year developing a smaller bomb was a daily goal. head.
North Korea and South Korea have been locked in an accelerating arms race that analysts fear will flood the region with powerful new missiles.
South Korea’s military did not disclose whether it had detected the latest North Korean tests, but said on Monday that it was conducting a detailed analysis with the cooperation of the United States.
The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of the reports and was working with its allies and partners.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that unlike the ballistic missile North Korea launched in 2017, the cruise missile tested over the weekend did not fly over Japan.
But if the missile can fly as far as North Korea has reported, “that would be a big concern for us.” Japan will continue to work closely with the United States and South Korea to collect, analyze and monitor North Korea’s military activities, he said.
In China, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on all parties to continue to pursue a political solution “in line with the bilateral approach and the principle of phased and synchronized action”.
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Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, published photos of the new cruise missile in flight and being fired from a transport-erect-launcher.
The test offers “the strategic significance of possessing another effective means of deterrence to more reliably ensure the security of our nation and to strongly deter the military activities of world powers.” hostile force,” KCNA said.
It was North Korea’s first missile launch after it tested a new tactical short-range ballistic missile in March. North Korea also conducted a cruise missile test just hours after US President Joe Biden took office in late January.
North Korea’s missile test follows a relatively muted military parade last week that focused on civil defense and the government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic rather than displaying threatening weapons. threaten.
While some analysts see the parade as an attempt to make room for diplomatic negotiations, North Korea’s missile test “shows its commitment to a domestic timeline to present itself.” military modernization more than any external timeframe for diplomacy,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
The announcement of the test also came a day before key nuclear negotiators from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo to find a way to break the deadlock with North Korea.
China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, is also scheduled to visit Seoul on Tuesday for talks with his counterpart, Chung Eui-yong.
The Biden administration has said it is ready for diplomacy to achieve its goal of denuclearizing North Korea, but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
Sung Kim, the US special envoy for North Korea, in August in Seoul, said he was willing to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, anytime.”
The missile test could prompt Kim, the US special envoy to North Korea, to shift his focus at that meeting “from providing humanitarian assistance to coordinating sanctions enforcement and missile defense cooperation.” , Easley wrote in an email to NBC News.
The reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes of restarting talks, but North Korea stopped answering calls as South Korea’s annual military drills- America started last month, which Pyongyang has warned could trigger a security crisis.
Jennifer Jett and Dawn Liu contributed.