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North Korea tests ballistic missiles as nuclear talks stall

HONG KONG – North Korea fired two ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese governments said, two days after Pyongyang said it tested a new cruise missile.

The tests are the first North Korea has conducted in nearly six months.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the two ballistic missiles were launched from a central interior area of ​​North Korea and flew into the sea off the east coast. of the Korean Peninsula. He said the South Korean and US intelligence agencies were conducting a detailed analysis to gain additional information and that the South Korean military had stepped up surveillance in the region.

In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga confirmed that the weapons were considered ballistic missiles and called the launch “a threat to the peace and security of Japan and the region”.

“It is just outrageous,” Suga said, adding that the missiles fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone but the government would be monitoring the area “more closely than ever.”

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South Korea and Japan have said they will hold meetings of their national security councils.

On Monday, North Korean state media said a new long-range cruise missile had been tested twice over the weekend. The missile has been described as “a strategic weapon of great importance”, suggesting that it may be North Korea’s first cruise missile with nuclear capability.

Unlike cruise missiles, ballistic missile testing is explicitly prohibited by United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea’s weapons program.

Prior to this month, North Korea’s most recent weapons activity took place in March, when it tested a new short-range tactical ballistic missile. It also launched a cruise missile hours after President Joe Biden’s inauguration in late January, in line with its practice of testing new U.S. leaders.

Talks over dismantling North Korea’s weapons programs have stalled since 2019, when talks between former President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un collapsed over the issue of US sanctions . While the Biden administration has shown openness to diplomacy, it has said there will be no sanctions relief until North Korea moves towards denuclearization.

Nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss how to end the diplomatic standoff with the North. North Korea was also among the issues discussed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, at a meeting in Seoul on Tuesday.

Stella Kim and Arata yamamoto contributed.

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