Seoul, South Korea — Residents of northern Japan were rocked Thursday morning by alarms from cellphones, radios and public loudspeakers after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile over its eastern waters, adding to a recent barrage of provocative weapons protests that officials say could culminate in a nuclear test in the coming weeks.
The ICBM test, which was followed by two short-range ballistic launches into the sea, was quickly condemned by neighbors and the United States, which said it was ready to take “all necessary measures” to ensure the security of the American homeland and of Southern allies. Korea and Japan.
The Biden administration also warned of unspecified “additional costs and consequences” if the North continues to detonate a nuclear test device for the first time since September 2017.
The launches are the latest in a series of North Korean weapons tests in recent months that have heightened tensions in the region. They arrived a day after Pyongyang fired more than 20 missiles, the most it had ever fired in a single day.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the North firing an ICBM from an area near its capital Pyongyang around 7:40 a.m., then firing two short-range missiles an hour later from the nearby town of Kacheon which flown to its eastern waters.
According to the South Korean military, the longer-range missile appeared to have been fired at a high angle, possibly to avoid entering neighboring territory, reaching a maximum altitude of 1,920 kilometers (1,193 miles) and traveling approximately 760 kilometers (472 miles).
It was not immediately clear if the launch was successful.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada announced similar flight details, but said his military 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 who handles public affairs at Seoul’s Defense Ministry, did not respond directly when asked if the military believed the launch might have failed. with the missile exploding in the air, saying the test was still being analyzed.
Citing unnamed military sources, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the missile may have failed to maintain normal flight after a stage separation.
The Japanese government was initially concerned that the ICBM might fly over its northern territory, but later adjusted its assessment. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said the alerts were based on trajectory analysis indicating an overflight.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s office broadcast the “J-Alert” warnings via television, radio, cell phones and public loudspeakers to residents of the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata, ordering them to go inside company buildings or underground. Niigata is home to seven nuclear reactors operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, although they are currently all offline.
No damage or injuries were reported in the areas where the alerts were issued. High-speed train services in these areas have been temporarily suspended following the missile warning before resuming shortly. Kishida condemned the launches from the North and said officials were analyzing details of the weapons.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said its director of national security, Kim Sung-han, discussed the launches during an emergency security meeting where members discussed plans aimed at strengthening the country’s defense in conjunction with its alliance with the United States.
The office said South Korea would maintain its combined military exercises with the United States in response to North Korea’s increased testing activities, which it said would only deepen the international isolation of the country. North and trigger a new economic shock on its people.
Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the United States National Security Council, released a statement saying the United States strongly condemns the North’s ICBM test and that President Joe Biden and his national security team are assessing the situation closely. coordination with allies and partners.
“This launch, in addition to the launch of several other ballistic missiles this week, is in flagrant violation of several UN Security Council resolutions and unnecessarily increases tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” he said. Watson.
She said the United States would take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the American homeland and allies of South Korea and Japan.
One of more than 20 North Korean missiles fired on Wednesday flew towards a populated South Korean island and landed near the rivals’ tense sea border, setting off air raid sirens and forcing residents of the Ulleung Island to evacuate. South Korea quickly responded by launching its own missiles into the same border area.
The launches came hours after North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons to make the United States and South Korea “pay the most horrific price in history” in protest against the South Korean-American military exercises underway which she sees as a rehearsal for a possible invasion.
North Korea has ramped up its weapons demonstrations at a record pace this year. It has fired dozens of missiles, including its first demonstration of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017, as it exploits the distraction created by Russia’s war in Ukraine and a pause in diplomacy to advance arms development and increase the pressure on the United States and its Asian countries. allies.
The North has punctuated its testing with an escalating nuclear doctrine that authorizes preemptive nuclear attacks on a variety of loosely defined crisis situations. US and South Korean officials have said North Korea could up the ante in the coming weeks with its first detonation of a nuclear test device since September 2017.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a phone call with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin about Wednesday’s missile launches, including one that landed ‘recklessly and dangerously’ near the South Korean coast. Korea, and underlined the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its ally, according to their offices.
State Department spokesman Ned Price also raised concerns about possible North Korean preparations for another nuclear test, which would be its seventh overall. Experts say such tests could eventually bring North Korea closer to its goal of building a full-fledged arsenal that threatens regional US allies and the American mainland.
“If he went ahead with a seventh nuclear test, there would be additional costs and consequences,” Price said, noting that the test would be a “dangerous, reckless and destabilizing act.”
North Korea last flew a missile over Japan in October in what it described as a test of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, which experts say is potentially capable of to reach Guam, an important American military center in the Pacific. This launch forced the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and suspend train services.
Experts say North Korea is stepping up a tightrope policy aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and to negotiate economic and security concessions in position of strength.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since early 2019 over disagreements over the exchange of the release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and steps to denuclearize the North.
The North has so far ignored the Biden administration’s calls for open talks, insisting Washington should first drop its “hostile” policy, a term North Korea primarily uses to describe sanctions and the combined U.S.-Korea military exercises.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby pointed out Wednesday that the Biden administration has repeatedly sought to contact North Korean officials through diplomatic channels and has made it clear “we stand ready to sit down with North Korea without preconditions to discuss the denuclearization of the peninsula.”
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. AP writers Aamer Madhani and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to the Washington story.