North Korea keeps up its missile barrage with launch of ICBM

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea added to its barrage of latest weapons tests on Thursday, firing at least three missiles including an intercontinental ballistic missile that forced the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and temporarily halt trains.

The launch was the latest in a series of North Korean weapons tests in recent months that have raised tensions in the region. They came a day after Pyongyang fired more than 20 missiles, the most ever fired in a day.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the North firing an ICBM from an area near the capital Pyongyang around 7:40 a.m. and then fired two short-range missiles an hour later from the nearby city of Kacheon that flew toward eastern waters.

The long-range missile was apparently fired at a high angle, possibly to prevent it from entering neighboring territory, reached a maximum height of 1,920 kilometers (1,193 miles) and traveled about 760 kilometers (472 miles), according to South Korea’s military.

It was not immediately clear whether the launch was successful.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada announced details of the same flight but said the military had lost track of the weapon after it “disappeared” in the sky over the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Choi Yong Soo, a South Korean Navy captain in charge of public affairs for Seoul’s Defense Ministry, did not immediately answer when asked whether the military believed the launch failed when the missile exploded in mid-air, saying the test was still being analyzed.

Citing an anonymous military source, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the missile may have failed to maintain normal flight after stage separation.

The Japanese government initially feared that the ICBM would fly over its northern territory but later adjusted its assessment. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the warning was based on a trajectory analysis that indicated a flyover.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s office broadcast warnings via television, radio, cellphones and public loudspeakers to residents in the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata, ordering them to go indoors or underground.

There were no reports of damage or injuries from the area where the notice was issued. Bullet train services in the region were temporarily suspended following the missile warning before resuming. Kishida condemned the North’s launch and said officials were analyzing the details of the weapon.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said his national security director Kim Sung-han discussed the launch during an emergency security meeting where members talked about plans to strengthen the country’s defense in conjunction with its alliance with the United States.

The office said South Korea would maintain its joint military exercises with the United States in response to North Korea’s test activities, which it said would only further isolate the North internationally and remove economic shocks for its people.

Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, issued a statement saying that the United States strongly condemns the North’s ICBM test and that President Joe Biden and his national security team are assessing the situation in close coordination with allies and partners.

“This launch, in addition to the launch of several other ballistic missiles this week, is a flagrant violation of several UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tension and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” said Watson.

He said that the United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and its allies South Korea and Japan.

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One of the more than 20 North Korean missiles shot on Wednesday flew towards a populated South Korean island and landed near the rival’s tense sea border, triggering air raid sirens and forcing residents on Ulleung Island to evacuate. South Korea quickly responded by launching its own missiles in the same border area.

The launch came hours after North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons to make the US and South Korea “pay the most terrible price in history” in protest of South Korea-US military exercises seen as a rehearsal for a potential invasion.

North Korea has ramped up its weapons demonstrations at a record pace this year. It has fired dozens of missiles, including the first demonstration of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, as it exploited the disruption created by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the pause in diplomacy to push for weapons development and pressure on the United States and Asia. allies

The North has followed up its tests with an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes preemptive nuclear strikes in some unclear crisis situations. US and South Korean officials say North Korea could escalate in the coming weeks by detonating its first nuclear test device since September 2017.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin about Wednesday’s missile launches, including one that “recklessly and dangerously” landed near South Korea’s coast, and reiterated the US’s “ironclad” commitment to security. his allies, according to their office.

State Department spokesman Ned Price also raised concerns about North Korea’s possible preparations for another nuclear test, which would be its seventh overall. Experts say such tests could bring North Korea closer to its goal of building a complete arsenal that threatens regional US allies and the American mainland.

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“If it goes ahead with a seventh nuclear test there will be additional costs and consequences,” Price said, saying the test would be a “dangerous, reckless, destabilizing act.”

North Korea last fired a missile at Japan in October in what was described as a test of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, which experts say could potentially reach Guam, the main US military hub in the Pacific. The launch forced the Japanese government to issue an evacuation notice and pause train service.

Experts say North Korea is escalating a brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since early 2019 due to disagreements over the release of US-led sanctions against the North and the North’s denuclearization steps.

The North has so far ignored the Biden administration’s calls for open talks, insisting that Washington must abandon its “hostile” policy, a term used by North Korea to describe US-South Korean sanctions and military exercises.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday confirmed that the Biden administration has repeatedly sought to contact North Korean officials through diplomatic channels and has made clear “we are willing to sit down with North Korea without conditions to discuss the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. AP writers Aamer Madhani and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to the story from Washington.

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