SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile at sea on Wednesday, the US military said, its first weapons launch in about two months and a signal that it is not interested in joining the denuclearization talks anytime soon and would prefer to focus on strengthening its arsenal of weapons.
The launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to further strengthen his military capabilities – without disclosing any new policies towards the United States or South Korea – at a high-profile ruling party conference last week.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the ballistic missile launch “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program” but does not pose an immediate threat to US territory. or its allies. He said in a statement that the US commitment to the defense of its allies, South Korea and Japan, remains “foolproof.”
The South Korean military said a suspected ballistic missile fired from North Korea’s mountainous northern province of Jagang headed for its eastern waters. Defense Minister Suh Wook said the launch was seen as part of North Korea’s military build-up, but South Korea was in the process of analyzing whether it had political intent.
During an emergency videoconference, members of South Korea’s presidential national security team expressed concerns about the launch and said resuming talks with North Korea was important in resolving tensions , according to the Presidential Blue House.
The Japanese Defense Ministry also detected the North Korean launch. “We find it truly regrettable that North Korea has continued to fire missiles since last year,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
China, North Korea’s most important ally, maintained an impartial response to the launch, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin calling for dialogue and saying “all parties concerned should beware of the mind the bigger picture (and) be careful with their words and actions. . “
Last fall, North Korea carried out a series of weapons tests in what experts called an attempt to put more pressure on rivals to accept it as a nuclear power in the hope to obtain relief from economic sanctions. The tests included a ballistic missile launched by a submarine and a hypersonic development missile. Since the artillery fire exercises in early November, North Korea had halted testing activities until the launch on Wednesday.
The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that it is open to resuming nuclear diplomacy with North Korea âanywhere and anytimeâ without preconditions. North Korea has so far rejected such overtures, saying hostility from the United States remains unchanged.
Outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in his New Year’s address on Tuesday that he will continue to seek ways to restore ties with North Korea and promote peace on the Korean Peninsula until the end. of his only five-year term in May. He recently pushed for a symbolic declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War in order to reduce animosity.
U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program collapsed in 2019 amid differences over sanctions relief to be given to North Korea in exchange for denuclearization measures limited. Kim has since threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal, although his country’s economy has suffered major setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent US-led sanctions and mismanagement of his government.
“Rather than expressing willingness for denuclearization talks or interest in a declaration of end of war, North Korea is signaling that neither the omicron variant nor national food shortages will stop its aggressive missile development,” he said. said Leif-Eric Easley, professor at Ewha. Seoul University.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said North Korea could have tested a hypersonic missile or a nuclear-capable KN-23 missile with very maneuverable, lower trajectory flight. . He said North Korea would likely move forward with its military build-up.
Japanese media quoted Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as saying the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. UN Security Council resolutions ban all ballistic activity by North Korea, but the council generally does not impose new sanctions for short-range missile launches.
At last week’s plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim reiterated his wish to strengthen his country’s military capacity and ordered the production of more powerful and sophisticated weapon systems. State media reports on the meeting said North Korea had set “tactical directions” for foreign relations, including with South Korea, but did not give details. The reports made no mention of the United States.
Kim celebrated 10 years in office last month. Since taking control after the death of his father and longtime ruler Kim Jong Il in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has established absolute power in his country and has staged an unusually high number of weapons trials. as part of efforts to build nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States. continent.
During Kim’s reign, North Korea conducted 62 rounds of ballistic missile tests, compared to nine rounds during the 46-year reign of its grandfather and state founder, Kim Il Sung, and 22 rounds during the Kim Jong Il’s 17-year reign, according to South Korea and US figures. Four of North Korea’s six nuclear tests and its three intercontinental ballistic missile launches all took place during the reign of Kim Jong Un.
Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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