North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile at sea

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South Korean army soldiers patrol the barbed wire fence in Paju, near the North Korean border, South Korea, Wednesday, January 5, 2022. North Korea fired a missile on Wednesday suspected ballistics in the sea, the South Koreans and Japanese have told the military, its first public weapons launch in about two months and a signal that Pyongyang is not interested in joining denuclearization talks anytime soon and prefers to focus on strengthening its arsenal of weapons. (AP Photo / Ahn Young-joon)

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North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea on Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese armies said, the first of its kind in about two months and a signal Pyongyang is not interested in resuming denuclearization talks. anytime soon and would prefer to focus on building up his arsenal of weapons.

The latest launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to further strengthen his military capabilities – without disclosing any new policies towards the United States or South Korea – at a high-profile party conference in power last week.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile at its eastern waters on Wednesday morning. He said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were trying to analyze more information about the launch.

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.

Japan’s Defense Ministry also detected the North Korean launch, saying the country likely fired a missile.

“We find it really regrettable that North Korea has continued to fire missiles since last year,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

Kishida said further details of the North Korean launch were not immediately available, including where the suspected missile landed and whether there had been any damage. He said he ordered authorities to confirm the safety of ships and planes in the area where the suspected missile likely flew and fell.

Between September and November, 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 state. in the hope of obtaining relief from economic sanctions. Weapons tested included a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a hypersonic development missile. Since its 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 “anywhere and anytime” without preconditions. The North has so far pushed back 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 political and symbolic declaration to end the Korean War of 1950-53 in order to reduce animosities.

US-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program collapsed in 2019 amid feuds over sanctions relief to be given to the North in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex. , a limited denuclearization step. 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 his own mismanagement.

“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 the hypersonic missile or a nuclear-capable KN-23 missile with very maneuverable, lower trajectory flight. . He said North Korea would likely go ahead with its military-boosting plans.

At last week’s plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim reiterated his vows 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 North Korea’s foreign relations, including with South Korea, but did not give details. . The reports made no mention of the United States.

Kim marked 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 10-year reign, North Korea conducted 62 rounds of ballistic missile tests, compared to nine rounds during the 46-year reign of her grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung, and 22 rounds during Kim Jong Il’s 17-year reign, according to South Korean and American figures. Four of the North’s six nuclear tests and its three intercontinental ballistic missile launches all took place during the reign of Kim Jong Un.

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Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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