North Korea fires 2 missiles in tests condemned by neighbors
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Monday in a widely condemned weapons test — its second in three days — that prompted Tokyo to request an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
The firings follow an intercontinental ballistic missile launch Saturday and North Korea’s threats to take an unprecedentedly strong response to U.S.-South Korean military drills that the North views as an invasion rehearsal. Some experts say North Korea is pushing for more powerful weapons so that it can increase its leverage in potential negotiations with the United States.
South Korea’s military said it detected the two missile launches Monday morning from a western coastal town, just north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Japan said both missiles landed in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and that no damage involving aircraft and vessels in the area was reported.
According to Japanese and South Korean assessments, the North Korean missiles flew at a maximum altitude of 50-100 kilometers (30-60 miles) and a distance of 340-400 kilometers (210-250 miles). Those distances suggest South Korea is within striking range.
Both South Korea and Japan condemned recent North Korean launches as threats to international peace and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban any ballistic activities by North Korea. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Tokyo was requesting an emergency Security Council meeting to respond to recent North Korean launches.
An initial Security Council briefing led by Assistant Secretary-General for political affairs Khaled Khiari was set for later Monday.
Further council action against North Korea is in doubt after China and Russia, both veto-wielding powers embroiled in separate confrontations with Washington, opposed U.S.-led attempts last year to add fresh sanctions after the North launched dozens of ballistic weapons.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the new launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs. It said the U.S. commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remain ironclad.”
North Korea’s state media said long-range artillery units on its western coast fired two rounds Monday morning cross-country toward the eastern waters, in what South Korea’s military called a confirmation of the activities Seoul and Tokyo reported as missile launches. The official Korean Central News Agency said the North Korean artillery rounds simulated strikes on targets up to 395 kilometers (245 miles) away.
The North said the launches involved its new 600-millimeter multiple rocket launcher system that could be armed with “tactical” nuclear weapons for battlefield use. South Korean defense officials have viewed the weapons system as a short-range ballistic missile.
“The frequency of using the Pacific as our firing range depends upon the U.S. forces’ action character,” Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said in a statement carried by state media. “We are well aware of the movement of U.S. forces’ strategic strike means, (which are) recently getting brisk around the Korean Peninsula."
She could be referring to the U.S. flyover of B-1B long-range, supersonic bombers on Sunday for separate training with South Korea and Japan. The B-1B deployment came as response to North Korea’s launch Saturday of the Hwasong-15 ICBM off its east coast in the country’s first missile test since Jan. 1.
North Korea is extremely sensitive to the deployment of B-1B bombers, which can carry a huge payload of conventional weapons.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that North Korea may make further provocations, such as more missile launches and nuclear tests.
North Korea’s state media said Sunday the ICBM test was meant to further bolster its “fatal” nuclear attack capacity and verify the weapon’s reliability and the combat readiness of the country’s nuclear force.
In her statement earlier Sunday, Kim Yo Jong threatened to take additional powerful steps over upcoming military drills between the United States and South Korea.
North Korea has steadfastly slammed regular South Korea-U.S. military drills as a practice for a northward invasion, though the allies say their exercises are defensive in nature. Some observers say North Korea often uses its rivals’ drills as a pretext to hone and perfect its weapons systems. They say North Korea would ultimately want to win an international recognition of a legitimate nuclear state to get international sanctions lifted and receive other outside concessions.
The South Korean and U.S. militaries plan to hold a table-top exercise this week to hone a joint response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea. The allies are also to conduct another joint computer simulated exercise and field training in March.
Hours after Monday's launches, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Seoul placed unilateral sanctions on four individuals and five institutions it said were involved in illicit activities supporting the North’s nuclear arms development and evasion of sanctions. While South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government has so far placed sanctions on 31 individuals and 35 organizations for supporting the North’s nuclear ambitions, such steps are seen as mostly symbolic considering the lack of business activities between the rivals.
North Korea has claimed to have missiles capable of striking both the U.S. mainland and South Korea with nuclear weapons, but many foreign experts have said North Korea still has some key remaining technologies to master, such as shrinking the warheads small enough to be mounted on missiles and ensuring those warheads survive atmospheric reentry.
In her statement Monday, Kim Yo Jong reiterated that North Korea has reentry vehicle technology. She also hit back at South Korean experts who questioned whether North Korea’s ICBMs would be functional in real-war situations.
North Korea set an annual record in 2022 with the launch of more than 70 missiles. North Korea has said many of those weapons tests were a warning over previous U.S.-South Korean military drills. It also passed a law that allows it to use nuclear weapons preemptively in a broad range of scenarios.
Associated Press journalists Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.
Hyung-jin Kim And Kim Tong-hyung, The Associated Press