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North Korea continues wave of seaward missile launches

By HYUNG-JIN KIM and KIM TONG-HYUNG

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters after the United States redeployed an aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula in response to the earlier launch by Pyongyang of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan.

The latest missile launches suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue testing weapons aimed at bolstering his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. Many experts say Kim’s goal is to eventually gain recognition of the United States as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of those sanctions, although the United States and its allies have shown no sign of allowing this to happen.

The latest missiles were launched at 22-minute intervals from the northern capital region and landed between the Korean peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The first missile traveled 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a peak altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles) and the second traveled 800 kilometers (497 miles) over an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles).

Details of the flight were similar to Japanese assessments announced by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, who confirmed that the missiles did not reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

He added that the second missile may have been launched on an “irregular” trajectory. It is a term that has been used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon inspired by the Russian Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of attack. evade missile defenses.

US, South Korean and Japanese destroyers launched joint drills off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on Thursday to harness their abilities to search, track and intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, the heads of state said. South Korean Joint Major.

The US destroyer is part of the strike group led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which returned to the waters in what the South Korean military called an attempt to demonstrate the “strong will” of the allies to counter ongoing provocations and threats from the North. .

The strike group was in the area last week as part of previous exercises between South Korea and the United States, and other allied training involving Japan. North Korea sees these US-led drills near the peninsula as a rehearsal for an invasion and views the training involving a US aircraft carrier as more provocative.

South Korea’s military said it had also strengthened its surveillance posture and remained ready in close coordination with the United States. The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches posed no immediate threat to the United States or its allies, but still stressed the “destabilizing impact” of the US nuclear and ballistic missile programs. North Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone on Thursday and agreed that North Korea’s recent missile tests are “a serious and serious provocation” that threatens international peace.

The two leaders also decided to cooperate to deal harshly with North Korean provocations, according to Yoon’s office. Kishida said earlier that continued launches from the North were “absolutely intolerable”.

The launches were North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, adding to the record number of missile launches this year that have drawn condemnation from the United States and other countries. South Korean officials have said the North could soon up the ante by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile or carrying out its first nuclear test since 2017, escalating an old pattern of rising tensions before trying to wrest outside concessions.

Moon Hong Sik, spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry, said North Korea’s ramping up of testing also reflected the urgency of meeting Kim Jong Un’s weapons development goals.

Last year, Kim outlined a long wish list of advanced nuclear weapons systems, including more powerful ICBMs, multiple warhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and tactical nuclear weapons.

On Tuesday, North Korea staged its most provocative weapons display since 2017, firing an intermediate-range missile over Japan, forcing the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and halt trains.

Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam in the Pacific and beyond.

Other weapons tested in recent days included Iskander-type missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the redeployment of the Reagan strike group posed “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and its surroundings”. The ministry said it strongly condemned US-led efforts in the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against the North over its recent missile tests, which it described as a “just counter -action” to joint US-South Korean exercises.

Following the North’s launch of intermediate-range missiles, the United States and South Korea have also conducted their own live-fire exercises which have so far involved surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and precision-guided bombs. dropped by fighter planes.

But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly spell disaster early Wednesday when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile flipped over shortly after takeoff and crashed into the ground at an air base from the eastern coastal city of Gangneung. The South Korean military said no one was injured.

After Tuesday’s North Korean launch, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. But Wednesday’s session ended without a consensus, underscoring a rift between the council’s permanent members that has grown over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

During the meeting, Russia and China insisted to other members of the Security Council that US-led military exercises in the region had prompted North Korea to act.

The United States and its allies have expressed concern that the council’s failure to reach consensus on North Korea’s record number of missile launches this year is emboldening North Korea and undermining authority. of the most powerful organ of the United Nations.

North Korea has fired more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles in more than 20 launch events this year, using stalled diplomacy with the United States and Russia’s war on Ukraine as a window to accelerate the development of armaments.

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Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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See more AP Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

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