N. Korea fires possible missile into sea amid stalled talks

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into its East Sea on Tuesday, its second weapons launch in a week, the armies of South Korea and Japan said. .

This month’s launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that highlighted how North Korea continues to expand its military capabilities during a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea likely fired a single ballistic missile from an inland area toward its East Sea, and that the South Korean and US armies were analyzing the launch. He did not immediately say how far the gun flew.

The Japanese prime minister’s office and the defense ministry also said the weapon may have been a ballistic missile, but officials did not immediately provide further details.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were checking the safety of ships and planes around Japan, but there were no immediate reports of disruption or damage.

“It is extremely regrettable that North Korea continued to fire” missiles so soon after the UN Security Council discussed its response to the previous North launch, Kishida said.

Guam’s Homeland Security and Civil Defense offices said they were monitoring reports of the launch, but no immediate threat had been assessed to Guam, a major US military center in the Pacific.

The launch came six days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea in what it later described as a successful test of a hypersonic missile, a type of weapon it claims to have first tested in September.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said North Korea may have retested its alleged hypersonic missile in response to the South Korean military downplaying last week’s test .

Seoul’s defense ministry said after the test that North Korea had exaggerated its capabilities and tested a conventional ballistic missile that the South was able to intercept. The ministry said it doubts North Korea has acquired the technologies needed for a hypersonic weapon.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability. Such weapons were on a wishlist of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled early last year, as well as multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles, and nuclear missiles. launched by submarine.

Experts say North Korea is probably years away from acquiring a credible hypersonic system.

North Korea’s previous test on Jan.5 came days after Kim pledged at a key political conference to bolster its military forces, even as the nation grapples with pandemic challenges which have further strained its economy, paralyzed by the sanctions led by the United States on its nuclear program.

Economic setbacks have left Kim little to show for his diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which derailed after their second meeting in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s request for major relief sanctions in exchange for a partial cession of its nuclear capacities.

The Biden administration, whose policies reflected a broader shift in US focus from fighting terrorism and so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran to confronting an opponent close to China, said it was ready to resume talks with North Korea “anywhere and anytime” without preconditions.

But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of ​​open-ended talks, saying the United States must first withdraw its “hostile policy,” a term the North uses primarily to describe sanctions and sanctions. joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

“Even with North Korea’s pandemic border closures restricting trade and diplomacy, Pyongyang is determined to start an arms race against Seoul and deny Washington the luxury of focusing on Russia and China,” he said. said Leif-Eric Easley, professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal is at the heart of Kim’s regime and what he clearly sees as its strongest guarantee of survival.

During his 10-year reign, he carried out a large number of weapons tests with the aim of acquiring the capacity to launch nuclear strikes on the American continent.

But his country’s economy has seriously faltered over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sanctions imposed on its nuclear ambitions and mismanagement by his government.

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

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