SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile Thursday in a show of military might just hours before the leaders of South Korea and Japan were due to meet for a summit in Tokyo expected to begin. be overshadowed by nuclear threats from North Korea.
The launch, North Korea’s first ICBM test in a month and its third weapons test this week, also comes as South Korean and US troops continue joint military exercises that Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for an invasion.
The South Korean military said the North Korean ICBM flew into the eastern waters of the Korean Peninsula after being launched from the North Korean capital Pyongyang at around 7:10 a.m. (6:10 p.m. Wednesday, Eastern time). The statement said the ICBM was launched at a steep angle and flew about 620 miles before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
It was not immediately known which ICBM was launched, but North Korea’s long-range missiles are primarily designed to attack the US. Previous launches have shown that North Korea’s weapons have the range to hit anything. the continental US has mastered the technologies to build warheads small enough to fit on those missiles and protect the warheads during atmospheric re-entry.
Before heading to Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said: «North Korea’s reckless provocations will clearly pay the price.»
During an emergency security briefing on the North Korean release, Yoon instructed the South Korean military to continue its ongoing exercises with US forces, conduct some of the intensively planned joint drills, and strengthen cooperation of Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security, according to Yoon’s office.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it would maintain a strong readiness based on military capability to respond «overwhelmingly» to any North Korean provocation.
In Tokyo, Kishida said: «We must further strengthen cooperation between allies and like-minded countries.» He declined to comment on possible North Korean intentions behind the launch.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missile most likely landed in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone after a one-hour flight.
The North’s ongoing aggressive series of weapons tests has been widely anticipated; Leader Kim Jong Un last week ordered his army to stand ready to repel what he called «frantic war-ready movements» by his country’s rivals, referring to ongoing major exercises between the United States and South Korea. .
North Korea has long argued that the US and South Korean military exercises are proof of their hostile policies against North Korea, even though Washington and Seoul say they have no intention of invading the North. Many experts say North Korea is using its rivals’ exercises as a pretext to increase its nuclear capacity and pressure the United States to make concessions such as loosening international sanctions.
After conducting a record number of missile tests last year, North Korea has expanded its testing activities this year, including the February 18 launch of its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. After the launch of that intercontinental ballistic missile, North Korea said the test was meant to further bolster its «deadly» nuclear strike capability against its rivals.
Pyongyang also this week fired cruise missiles from a submarine and sent short-range ballistic missiles across its territory into the eastern sea. Last week, North Korea also fired at least six short-range ballistic missiles from a western coastal area in an exercise supervised by Kim, an event that state media described as a simulated attack on an unspecified South Korean airfield.
Ongoing drills between the United States and South Korea that began on Monday and are scheduled to continue until March 23 include computer simulations and live-fire field exercises.