SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile Thursday, with South Korean and Japanese leaders meeting at a summit in Tokyo set to be overshadowed by North Korea’s nuclear threats.
North Korea’s first ICBM test in a month and third weapon test this week also comes as South Korean and US troops continue joint military exercises that Pyongyang sees as an attempted invasion.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missile flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 mi) during the 70-minute flight, with a maximum altitude of 6,000 km (3,730 mi). It’s similar to the details of the February launch flight of another ICBM that experts say showed potential range deep into the continental United States.
The missile landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan after being launched on a steep trajectory, apparently to avoid neighboring countries. Japan said the missile fell outside its exclusive economic zone and that there were no reports of damage to ships or aircraft.
North Korea has yet to test ICBMs on a standard trajectory, but it has repeatedly said it has operational nuclear missiles. Some foreign experts still doubt that the North has mastered the technology needed to mount and protect the warheads on those missiles.
US National Security Council spokesperson Adrien Watson stated that Washington will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American motherland and its allies, South Korea and Japan. He said the launch “raises unnecessary tension and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.”
Before leaving for the summit in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yun Suk-yeol said: “North Korea’s reckless provocations will pay a clear price.”
In an emergency security meeting on North Korea’s launch, Yun instructed the South Korean military to thoroughly continue its current drills with US forces, intensively conduct planned joint exercises and strengthen Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security cooperation. Yun’s office.
Kishida said in Tokyo. “We must further strengthen cooperation between allies and like-minded countries.”
The Yoon-Kishida summit, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, comes after Yoon’s government took a major step last week to repair bilateral relations that were strained by Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910-45. South Korea’s plan to use local funds to compensate some victims of colonial-era forced labor without investment from the Japanese companies that employ them has faced fierce domestic opposition, but it reflects Yun’s determination to boost Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation.
“Yuni’s trip to Tokyo ran into domestic opposition for allegedly rushing a historic reconciliation in favor of improving relations with Japan,” said Leif-Erik Easley, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha University. “North Korean ICBM Test on Day of Yun-Kishida Summit. may have been intended to exacerbate that policy, but instead makes clear the need for deepening security cooperation among US allies.”
President Joe Biden hailed the South Korean plan as an important step toward strengthening the partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies, which together host about 80,000 American troops. The US has sought stronger alliances in Asia to counter the rise of China and threats from North Korea.
North Korea’s pursuit of an expanded nuclear arsenal has prompted South Korea and Japan to seek to enhance their security partnership with the United States, as both countries are under fire from North Korea’s nuclear missiles. Last October, North Korea fired a medium-range missile into northern Japan, prompting communities there to issue evacuation alerts and halt trains.
Under Kishida, Tokyo has also made a major break from its post-World War II self-defense policy, adopting a new national security strategy in December that includes pre-emptive strike capabilities and targets to acquire cruise missiles to counter growing threats from the north. Korea, China and Russia.
The North’s continued aggressive series of weapons tests was widely expected. Leader Kim Jong-un last week ordered his military to be ready to push back “fierce war preparation steps” by his country’s adversaries, referring to major joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that began on Monday.
North Korea has long argued that the U.S. and South Korean military exercises are evidence of their hostile policy toward North Korea, although Washington and Seoul say they have no plans to invade North Korea. Many experts say North Korea is using its rivals’ military drills as an excuse to boost its nuclear capability to pressure the United States into making concessions, such as easing international sanctions.
After conducting a record number of missile tests last year, North Korea has ramped up its test activity this year, including the Feb. 18 launch of its Hwasong-15 ICBM. After that launch, North Korea said the test was meant to further strengthen its “fatal” nuclear strike capability against its rivals.
The Hwasong-15 is one of the North’s three ICBMs, all of which use liquid propellants that require pre-injections. Kim has promised to build solid-propellant missiles that are more mobile and harder to detect before launch because their fuel is already loaded inside.
South Korea’s military said Thursday’s missile launch took place in the Sunan district of Pyongyang, home to its international airport. It is a major test site where the North has launched most of its recent ICBM tests.
Pyongyang also fired cruise missiles from a submarine and short-range ballistic missiles across its territory into the East Sea this week. Last week, North Korea fired at least six short-range ballistic missiles from its west coast in exercises that its state media called a simulated attack on an unspecified South Korean airport.
The ongoing US-South Korea military exercises are scheduled to continue through March 23 and include computer simulations and live-fire field exercises. Experts expected North Korea to step up its testing activities during the drills.
The top nuclear envoys of Seoul, Washington and Tokyo discussed the North’s ICBM launch by phone and agreed to coordinate for a unified international response to the North’s weapons activities, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.