By HYUNG-JIN KIM and MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern waters Sunday, the latest in a recent series of weapons tests, a day after warning of the redeployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula. it was inflaming regional tensions.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it detected two missile launches on Sunday between 1:48 am and 1:58 am from North Korea’s eastern coastal city of Munchon. He added that the South Korean military has strengthened its surveillance posture and maintains a readiness in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino also confirmed the launches, saying Pyongyang’s test activities are “absolutely unacceptable” as they threaten regional and international peace and security.
Ino said the weapons could be submarine-launched ballistic missiles. “We are still looking into the details of the missiles, including the possibility that they were launched from the sea,” Ino said.
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North Korea’s pursuit of the ability to fire missiles from a submarine would be an alarming development for its rivals because it is more difficult to detect such launches in advance. North Korea is believed to have 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 has separately instructed officials to collect and analyze as much information as they can and expedite any updates on the tests to the public. His office said it was also seeking to ensure the safety of all planes and ships in waters around Japan while preparing for any contingencies.
South Korea’s presidential office said National Security Director Kim Sung-han called an emergency security meeting on the launches where members reviewed the South’s defense readiness and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with the United States. and Japan to counter growing threats from North Korea.
Seoul warned that Pyongyang’s consecutive provocations will deepen its international isolation and increase “regime instability” by worsening its economy and people’s livelihood.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the launches did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to its allies. But he said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. He said US commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan remain “uncompromising.”
The launch, North Korea’s seventh round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea wrapped up 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 earlier training with South Korea. .
On Saturday, North Korea’s Defense Ministry warned that the Reagan’s redeployment was causing a “considerably huge negative splash” on regional security. The ministry called its recent missile tests a “fair reaction” to the intimidating military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
North Korea views US and South Korean military exercises as an invasion drill and is especially sensitive if such exercises involve US strategic assets, such as an aircraft carrier. North Korea has argued that it was forced to undertake a nuclear weapons program to deal with nuclear threats from the United States. 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 at more than 20 different events this year, seizing on a deepening UN Security Council split over Russia’s war against Ukraine as a window to accelerate weapons development. .
The record number of tests included the launch last week of a nuclear-capable missile that flew over Japan for the first time in five years. It was estimated that it traveled between 4,500 and 4,600 kilometers (2,800 and 2,860 miles), a sufficient distance to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
South Korean officials say Pyongyang may soon up the ante by staging an intercontinental ballistic missile or nuclear test explosion, following a traditional pattern of fabricating diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions. There are also concerns about provocations along the Koreas’ land and sea borders.
Sunday’s launches came on the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that put the mainland United States, South Korea and Japan within striking distance.
The flurry of evidence from North Korea indicates that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the United States and wants to focus on expanding his weapons arsenal. But some experts say Kim will eventually try to use his advanced nuclear program to win further external concessions, such as recognition of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim believes is essential if crippling UN sanctions are lifted.
South Korean officials recently said North Korea was also set to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile, while remaining poised to conduct its first underground nuclear test since 2017. Associated Press Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
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