Seoul: North Korea fires suspected ICBM and 2 other missiles | world news

By HYUNG-JIN KIM and KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile and two shorter-range weapons into the sea on Wednesday, South Korea said, hours after President Joe Biden completed a trip to Asia where he reaffirmed the American commitment to defend its allies against the nuclear threat from the North.

If confirmed, it would be North Korea’s first ICBM launch in about two months amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. Breaking its 2018 moratorium on long-range launches, North Korea claimed in March that it had tested its longest-range missile as part of its development of functional nuclear missiles that can reach the American homeland.

The launches came as North Korea made a highly controversial claim that its first national COVID-19 outbreak was waning.

After an emergency National Security Council meeting, the South Korean government said North Korea fired a suspected ICBM and two short-range ballistic missiles.

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“North Korea’s sustained provocations can only result in stronger and faster combined South Korea-U.S. deterrence and can only deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” the statement said. of the South Korean government. “(Our) government constantly stands ready to respond forcefully and effectively to any kind of North Korean provocation.”

South Korea’s military said the suspected ICBM reached a maximum height of 540 kilometers (335 miles) as it traveled 360 kilometers (223 miles) east after being fired from the capital area North. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North apparently lost the second missile 20 kilometers (12 miles) in flight, while the third missile traveled 760 kilometers (472 miles) on an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles).

A JCS statement said the US and South Korean militaries fired two surface-to-surface missiles in response to demonstrate allied strike capabilities. He said the allies had detected North Korea’s preparations for the launches in advance. He said the South Korean Air Force conducted an “elephant march” on Tuesday involving 30 fully armed F-15K fighter jets parading along a runway in formation.

US Indo-Pacific Command earlier said missile launches highlight ‘destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program’ although they pose no immediate threat to territory American and its allies. A command statement said the United States’ commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remains rock solid”.

The White House said Biden has been briefed on the North Korean missile launches and will continue to be briefed as information develops.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the launches were “an act of provocation and absolutely unacceptable”. He accused North Korea of ​​continuing its weapons development program while “ignoring the suffering of the people amid the spread of the coronavirus in the country”.

The launches were North Korea’s 17th series of missile launches this year. Experts said the launches showed North Korea’s determination to continue efforts to modernize its weapon arsenals despite the COVID-19 outbreak and to apply more pressure on rivals to wrest sanctions relief. and other concessions amid dormant nuclear diplomacy.

US, South Korean and Japanese officials have said North Korea may also soon conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years.

“If the omicron is raging in the country, now is not the best time for Kim to take domestic political credit for a nuclear test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “So declaring victory over COVID, at least in state propaganda, will likely come first. But North Korea is likely to conduct its seventh nuclear test before re-engaging in diplomacy.

North Korea’s unusual pace in weapons testing this year included an ICBM launch in March, its first since 2017. North Korea described the launch as a demonstration of its largest missile, the Hwasong- 17. However, the South Korean military said the North would have fired a smaller ICBM instead. Regardless, the missile flew longer and higher than any other weapon the North had ever tested and had the potential range to reach the entire continental United States, experts say.

After their summit in Seoul on Saturday, Biden and Yoon said they would consider expanding military exercises to deter North Korean nuclear threats.

Biden brushed off questions about a potential North Korean provocation on his trip, saying, “We’re ready for anything North Korea does.” When asked if he had a message for Northern leader Kim Jong Un, Biden offered a curt response: “Hello. Period.”

Biden then met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, and they pledged to work closely together to address security challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic programs and what they called the China’s “increasingly coercive” behavior in the region.

Before Wednesday, North Korea’s most recent missile tests took place on May 12, hours after the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak and ended a widely disputed claim that it was free of coronavirus for more than two years.

The country has said in recent days that there has been “a positive sign” in its anti-virus campaign. Since admitting the outbreak, North Korea has identified about 3 million cases of unidentified fever, and saying only a small fraction were COVID-19.

On Wednesday, state media for the second day in a row reported no additional deaths from the fever. The 68 reported deaths represent an extremely low toll for COVID-19. Experts doubt the numbers given that North Korea has limited health resources and may be underreporting deaths to avoid possible political damage to Kim.

North Korea has so far ignored South Korean and US offers to send vaccines, medicine and other support items. Much of North Korea’s 26 million people remain unvaccinated, and the country’s once-free socialist public health system has been in shambles for decades.

“At a time when the North Korean people are suffering from the spread of COVID-19, North Korea is using its crucial resources to develop nuclear weapons and missiles instead of measures to fight the virus and improve livelihoods. , which is very unfortunate,” the South said. said Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.

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