North Korea launches 2 missiles toward sea after US-South Korea drills

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern waters on Sunday, the latest in a recent weapons test, a day after it warned that the refit of a US aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula was fueling regional tensions.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it intercepted two missile launches from the city of Munchon on the Northeast coast between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m. on Sunday. He added that the South Korean military has increased its vigilance and is ready in close coordination with the United States.

Japanese Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino also confirmed the launches, saying Pyongyang’s test activities are “totally unacceptable” as they threaten regional and international peace and security.

Ino said the weapons could have been submarine-launched ballistic missiles. “We continue to study the details of the missiles, including the possibility that they could have been launched from the sea,” Ino said.

North Korea’s pursuit of the ability to launch missiles from a submarine would be a worrying development for its rivals, as such launches are more difficult to detect in advance. North Korea last tested a missile launch from a submarine in May.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries estimated that the missiles flew about 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached maximum altitudes of 90 to 100 kilometers (56 to 60 miles) before falling in the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida separately ordered officials to gather and analyze all the information they could and to expedite updates on the tests to the public. His office said it wanted to ensure the safety of all aircraft and ships in Japanese waters while preparing for any contingency.

South Korea’s presidential office said National Security Director Kim Sung-han called an emergency security meeting to launch, where members reviewed the South’s defense preparedness and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with the United States and Japan in countering growing threats from North Korea. to do

Seoul has warned that Pyongyang’s continued provocations will deepen its international isolation and increase the “instability of the regime” by worsening its economy and people’s livelihoods.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the launch did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territories, or to its allies. But he said the launches highlight the “destabilizing effect” of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. He said the US’s defense commitments to South Korea and Japan remain “ironclad”.

The launch, the North’s seventh round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea concluded two days of naval exercises off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.

The drills involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group, which returned to the area after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan last week to protest the carrier group’s training with South Korea.

On Saturday, North Korea’s Defense Ministry warned that Reagan’s reshuffle was causing a “huge negative splash” on regional security. The ministry said the latest missile tests were a “direct reaction” to the fearsome military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

North Korea views US-South Korean military exercises as rehearsals for invasion and is particularly sensitive if such exercises involve US strategic assets (such as an aircraft carrier). North Korea has argued that it was forced to pursue a nuclear weapons program to counter US nuclear threats. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of attacking the North.

North Korea has launched more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles this year in 20 separate events, and has used the deepening division in the UN Security Council over Russia’s war on Ukraine as a window to speed up weapons development.

Among the record number of tests, last week was the launch of a nuclear missile that flew over Japan for the first time in five years. It was estimated to have traveled about 4,500–4,600 kilometers (2,800–2,860 miles), enough distance to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.

South Korean officials have said Pyongyang could soon launch an intercontinental ballistic missile or detonate a nuclear test, following a traditional pattern of manufacturing diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before offering negotiations to extract concessions. There are also concerns about provocations along Korea’s land and sea borders.

Sunday’s demonstrations came on the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s Workers’ Party.

Earlier this year, North Korea tested another nuclear-powered ballistic missile that puts the US mainland, South Korea and Japan within striking distance.

North Korea’s test means its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the US and wants to focus on expanding his weapons arsenal. But some experts say Kim will eventually aim to use his advanced nuclear program to win greater external concessions, such as recognizing North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim believes is essential to lifting damaging UN sanctions.

South Korean officials recently said North Korea was ready to test a new liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile, its first underground nuclear test since 2017. ___ Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.

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