North Korea fires 2 more missiles at sea; fourth weapons test this month

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea on Monday in its fourth weapons launch this month, the South Korean military said, in an apparent bid to demonstrate its power military amid paused diplomacy with the United States and pandemic border closures.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North likely fired two short-range ballistic missiles from an area in Sunan, the location of Pyongyang International Airport, but did not immediately specify the distance traveled.

The launch was also detected by Japan, where Prime Minister Fumio Kishida asked his government to do everything possible to gather information about the missiles, which Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said landed outside Japan. the exclusive economic zone of Japan.

The Japanese Coast Guard issued a warning to ships traveling in Japanese waters to watch out for falling objects, but no immediate damage was reported to ships or aircraft.

“We strongly condemn the series of North Korean actions, including the repeated launches of ballistic missiles, which threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community,” said Hirokazu Matsuno, chief secretary. of the Tokyo cabinet.

The launch came after the North carried out a pair of flight tests of a purported hypersonic missile on January 5 and 11 and also tested ballistic missiles from a train on Friday in apparent retaliation for new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration last week. for its continuous test launches.

North Korea has in recent months stepped up testing of new missiles designed to overwhelm missile defenses in the region.

Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is reverting to a tried-and-true technique of pressuring the United States and its regional neighbors with outrageous missile launches and threats before offering negotiations aimed at securing concessions.

A US-led diplomatic push to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected North demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal that he clearly sees as his best guarantee of survival, despite major setbacks to the country’s economy due to pandemic-related border closures and lingering sanctions imposed by United States.

His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s call to resume dialogue without preconditions, saying Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy”, a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe sanctions and combined US-Korean military exercises.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul, said the North may have carried out another launch to pressure Washington and may continue to step up testing activities after vowing to act more firmly against what he perceives as American hostility.

Last week, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North Koreans for their role in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the North’s first tests this month. .

The State Department ordered sanctions against another North Korean, a Russian man, and a Russian company for their broader support of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction activities, and the Biden administration also said that she would pursue additional UN sanctions over the North’s continued testing.

The sanctions announcement came just hours after North Korean state media said Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, which was the country’s second test of the system in a year. week, and claimed that the weapon would greatly increase the country’s “war deterrent”.

The North also fired two short-range ballistic missiles from a train on Friday in apparent retaliation for new US sanctions related to hypersonic testing. Friday’s test came hours after North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement berating the Biden administration over the new sanctions and warning of a “stronger and more certain reaction” if Washington maintains its stance on showdown.

A US-led diplomatic push to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected North demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal that he clearly sees as his best guarantee of survival, despite major setbacks to the country’s economy due to pandemic-related border closures and lingering sanctions imposed by United States.

His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s call to resume dialogue without preconditions, saying Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy”, a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe sanctions and combined US-Korean military exercises.