Seoul, South Korea — North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile towards its eastern seas on Sunday, extending a provocative streak of weapons testing as a US aircraft carrier visits South Korea for joint military exercises in response to the growing nuclear threat from the North.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile launched from the western inland city of Taechon traveled 600 kilometers (370 miles) across the country at a maximum altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles) before landing in waters off the east coast of North Korea.
South Korea’s presidential office said National Security Director Kim Sung-han called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council during which members denounced the launch as a flagrant violation of resolutions of the UN Security Council and accused the North of increasing tensions in the region.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch posed no “immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies,” but did stress the destabilizing impact of illicit nuclear weapons programs and missiles from North Korea.
The launch came as the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group arrived in South Korea for the two countries’ joint military exercises aimed at showing strength against growing North Korean threats.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said its nuclear envoy Kim Gunn had phone calls with Sung Kim, US President Joe Biden’s special representative for North Korea, and Funakoshi Takehiro, director general for Asian and Oceania affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, to discuss trilateral cooperation in the face of North Korean threats.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement that Tokyo is “doing everything possible” to gather information on North Korea’s launch and confirm the safety of the ships and planes, although no damage was caused. reported immediately.
The North Korean threat is also expected to be on the agenda when US Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending the state funeral in Tokyo of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
North Korea ramped up its testing activities at a record pace in 2022, testing more than 30 ballistic weapons, including its first intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017. North Korea operates a division in the United Nations Security Council that s is dug because of Russia’s war against Ukraine to accelerate the development of armaments.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un punctuated his weapons tests with repeated threats that the North would proactively use its nuclear weapons if threatened, raising security concerns for its conventionally armed rival, North Korea. South.
Flight details announced by Seoul’s military suggest North Korea may have tested a nuclear-capable short-range weapon inspired by Russia’s Iskander missiles, which travel at relatively low altitudes and are designed to be maneuverable in flight , making them more difficult to intercept by missile defenses.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul, said it was remarkable that the missile traveled 600 kilometers (370 miles) from its Taechon launch point – roughly the distance to ‘at South Korea’s southern port, Busan, where the Reagan arrived on Friday. .
Iskander-type missiles are part of a growing arsenal of short-range solid-fuel systems that North Korea has been developing since 2019. The North describes some of these weapons as “tactical,” which experts say communicate threat to arm them with small nuclear weapons on the battlefield and use them proactively during conflict to blunt the stronger conventional forces of South Korea and the United States, which station around 28,500 troops in the South.
North Korea has so far rejected calls from the United States and South Korea to return to nuclear diplomacy, which have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the exchange of release from directed sanctions. by the United States against the North and the North’s disarmament measures.
The arrival of the USS Reagan in South Korea came after Kim told parliament in Pyongyang this month that he would never give up the nuclear weapons and missiles he needs to counter what he perceives as American hostility.
Kim’s speech came as North Korean lawmakers passed a law that enshrines its status as a nuclear power and authorizes the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide range of scenarios where the country or its leaders are threatened, setting out an escalating nuclear doctrine.
Speaking to U.S. and South Korean troops aboard the Reagan on Saturday, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said sending U.S. strategic assets to the region showed the unwavering commitment of the United States to defend South Korea. He said the North would receive an overwhelming response if it attempted to use nuclear weapons, according to a statement from his ministry.
Sunday’s test could soon be followed by a more provocative weapons demonstration, as South Korean officials said they detected signs that North Korea was preparing to test a missile system designed to be launched from of submarines. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said on Saturday it had been briefed on the developments ahead of his flight home from a visit to Canada.
On Wednesday, 38 North, a North Korea-focused website, said its analysis of commercial satellite imagery shows several barges and other vessels gathered in the eastern port of Sinpo, where North Korea has a major construction shipyard. of submarines. The report says the North may be preparing to launch a new submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles.
North Korea has made great efforts to be able to fire nuclear missiles from submarines. Such weapons would in theory strengthen North Korea’s deterrence by ensuring retaliation after absorbing a nuclear attack on land.
Ballistic missile submarines would also add a new maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from ground vehicles, which are being developed with the apparent aim of overwhelming missile defense systems. in South Korea and Japan.
Still, experts say the heavily sanctioned nation would need significantly more time, resources and major technological upgrades to build at least several submarines that could travel the seas quietly and reliably execute strikes.
Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama contributed to the Tokyo story.