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North Korea test launched intercontinental ballistic missile, state media says

North Korea test launched intercontinental ballistic missile, state media says
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North Korea on Saturday fired an intercontinental ballistic missile from its capital into the sea off Japan, state media KCNA reported Sunday. The country threatened on Friday to take strong measures against South Korea and the U.S. over their joint military exercises.

KCNA reported that “the drill was suddenly organized without previous notice,” and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had personally signed off on the test.

According to the South Korean and Japanese militaries, the missile was fired on a high angle, apparently to avoid reaching the neighbors’ territories, and traveled about 560 miles at a maximum altitude of 3,500 miles during an hourlong flight.

The details were similar to North Korea’s Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile test flight in November, which experts said demonstrated potential to reach the U.S. mainland if fired on a normal trajectory. Saturday’s test was of a Hwasong-15, according to KCNA.

A woman walks past a television showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on Feb. 18, 2023.
A woman walks past a television showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on Feb. 18, 2023.

Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Japanese government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said no damage was reported from the missile, which landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, about 125 miles west of Oshima island. Oshima lies off the western coast of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Friday threatened with “unprecedently” strong action against its rivals, after South Korea announced a series of military exercises with the United States aimed at sharpening their response to the North’s growing threats.

While the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or its allies, the White House National Security Council said it needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.

“It only demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” it said, calling it a “flagrant violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said his national security director, Kim Sung-han, presided over an emergency security meeting that accused the North of escalating regional tensions. It denounced North Korea for accelerating its nuclear arms development despite signs of worsening economic problems and food insecurity, saying such actions would bring only tougher international sanctions.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo was closely communicating with Washington and Seoul over the launch, which he called “an act of violence that escalates provocation toward the international order.”

The launch was North Korea’s first since Jan. 1, when it test-fired a short-range weapon. It followed a massive military parade in Pyongyang last week, where troops rolled out more than a dozen ICBMs as Kim watched in delight from a balcony.

The unprecedented number of missiles underscored a continuation of expansion of his country’s military capabilities despite limited resources while negotiations with Washington remain stalemated.

Those missiles included a new system experts say is possibly linked to the North’s stated desire to acquire a solid-fuel ICBM. North Korea’s existing ICBMs use liquid propellants that require pre-launch injections and cannot remain fueled for prolonged periods. A solid-fuel alternative would take less time to prepare and is easier to move around on vehicles, providing less opportunity to be spotted.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Saturday’s launch involved a solid-fuel system.

North Korea is coming off a record year in weapons demonstrations with more than 70 ballistic missiles fired, including those with potential to reach the U.S. mainland. The North also conducted a slew of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks against South Korean and U.S. targets in response to the allies’ resumption of large-scale joint military exercise that had been downsized for years.

North Korea’s missile tests have been punctuated by threats of preemptive nuclear attacks against South Korea or the U.S. over what it perceives as a broad range of scenarios that put its leadership under threat.

Kim doubled down on his nuclear push entering 2023, calling for an “exponential increase” in the country’s nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons targeting “enemy” South Korea and the development of more advanced ICBMs.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry officials told lawmakers earlier that Seoul and Washington will hold an annual computer-simulated combined training in mid-March. The 11-day training will reflect North Korea’s nuclear threats, as well as unspecified lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war, according to Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defense policy. Heo said the countries will also conduct joint field exercises in mid-March that would be bigger than those held in the past few years.

South Korea and the U.S. will also hold a one-day tabletop exercise next week at the Pentagon to sharpen a response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

AFP contributed reporting to this article.

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