North Korea continues missile launches as US redeploys aircraft carrier

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea launched two ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Thursday, as the United States redeployed one of its aircraft carriers near the Korean peninsula in response to the earlier launch by Pyongyang of a powerful nuclear-capable missile over Japan. .

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launches were made 22 minutes apart from the northern capital region. He said South Korea has strengthened its monitoring posture and remains ready in close coordination with the United States.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also confirmed the North Korean missile launches, saying the weapons fire is “absolutely intolerable”.

The latest missile launches suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue testing weapons aimed at bolstering his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. Many experts say Kim’s goal is to eventually secure recognition of the United States as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of those sanctions, although the international community has shown no sign of allowing that. it happen.

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The launches were North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, drawing condemnation from the United States and other countries.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the two North Korean missiles launched on Thursday morning traveled 350 to 800 kilometers (217 to 500 miles) at a maximum altitude of 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles) before to land in waters outside the exclusive economic zone of Japan.

He said initial analysis suggested the second missile may have been launched on an “irregular” trajectory. It’s a term that’s once been used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon inspired by the Russian Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of attack. evade missile defenses.

On Tuesday, North Korea staged its most provocative weapons display in years, firing an intermediate-range missile at Japan for the first time in five years. The launch led to the Japanese government issuing evacuation alerts and stopping the trains.

Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam in the Pacific and beyond.

Other weapons previously tested reportedly included Iskander-type missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.

Thursday’s launches came as the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan returned to waters east of South Korea in what the South Korean military called an attempt to demonstrate ‘strong will’ allies to counter ongoing provocations and threats from the North.

The carrier was in the area last week as part of exercises between South Korea and the United States and other allied training involving Japan. North Korea sees these US-led drills near the peninsula as a rehearsal for an invasion and views the training involving a US aircraft carrier as more provocative.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the redeployment of the Reagan strike group posed “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and its surroundings”.

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Following the North’s launch of intermediate-range missiles, the United States and South Korea have also conducted their own live-fire exercises which have so far involved surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and precision-guided bombs. dropped by fighter planes.

But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly spell disaster on Wednesday morning when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile flipped over shortly after takeoff and crashed into an airbase in the eastern coastal town of Gangneung. The South Korean military said no one was injured in the accident and civilian facilities were not affected.

After Tuesday’s North Korean launch, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The statement from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it strongly condemns US-led efforts at the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against the North over its recent missile tests, which he described as a “just counteraction” to joint US-South Korean exercises.

North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests this year amid stalled diplomacy with the United States. US-led efforts to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits collapsed in 2019 due to disputes over US sanctions against North Korea.

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.


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