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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea tested a long-range seaward missile on Thursday, its neighbors’ military said. The launch, which extended North Korea’s barrage of weapons tests this year, came after US and South Korean militaries said the country was preparing a flight of its largest intercontinental ballistic missile this year. day.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately clarify whether the weapon involved in the launch was ballistic or how far it flew. But Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said the missile, which reached a maximum altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles), was possibly a new type of ICBM.
The Japanese Coast Guard, which warned vessels in nearby waters of the potential for falling objects, said they believed the missile flew about an hour before landing in waters outside the economic zone exclusive to the country.
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It was North Korea’s 12th round of weapons launches this year and came after it fired suspected artillery pieces into the sea on Sunday. Experts say the North’s unusually fast pace of testing activity underscores its dual goals of advancing its weaponry and pressuring Washington about a deep freeze on nuclear negotiations.
The North has also tested a variety of new missiles, including a purported hypersonic weapon and its first launch since 2017 of an intermediate-range missile potentially capable of reaching Guam, a key US military hub in the Pacific.
It also conducted two medium-range tests in recent weeks from Sunan, home to the country’s main airport, which the US and South Korean militaries later assessed as involving components from the North’s largest ICBM. The allies then said the missile, which the North calls Hwasong-17, could soon be tested at full range.
Those tests followed another launch from Sunan last week that the South Korean military called a failure, saying the missile likely detonated shortly after liftoff. Details of the explosion and the possibility of civilian damage remain unknown.
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North Korean state media insisted that the two successful tests were aimed at developing cameras and other systems for a spy satellite. Analysts say the North is clearly trying to simultaneously resume ICBM testing and gain some level of space reconnaissance capability under the guise of a space launch to reduce international reactions to these moves.
The launch could take place around a major political anniversary in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.
Previous Northern ICBMs demonstrated potential range to reach the American homeland during three flight tests in 2017. Its development of the larger Hwasong-17, which was first revealed at a military parade in October 2020 , possibly indicates a goal of arming it with multiple warheads. overwhelm missile defenses, experts say.
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North Korea’s series of weapons tests this year, which comes amid a protracted diplomatic stalemate, reflects a determination to cement its status as a nuclear power and much-needed economic concessions from Washington and the United States. other rivals in a position of strength, analysts said.
– Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.