SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea tested a barrage of short-range ballistic missiles from multiple locations out to sea on Sunday, the South Korean military said, extending a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations this year. which US and South Korean officials say could culminate in a nuclear test explosion.
Possibly setting a one-day record for North Korean ballistic launches, eight missiles were fired in succession over 35 minutes from at least four different locations, including western and eastern coastal areas and two inland areas. north and near the capital, Pyongyang, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
He said the missiles flew 110 to 670 kilometers (68 to 416 miles) at maximum altitudes of 25 to 80 kilometers (15 to 56 miles) while reaching speeds of Mach 3 to 6.
Chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Won In-Choul, held a video conference on the launches with General Paul LaCamera, an American general who heads the South Korea-United States Combined Forces Command. United in Seoul, and they reaffirmed the joint defense of the allies. posture, the JCS said in a statement.
Sung Kim, US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, also discussed the launches with South Korean officials during a visit to Seoul, and they expressed “deep regret” that North Korea is continuing. the development of weapons despite battling a COVID-19 outbreak at home, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said none of the missiles fell in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The launches came a day after the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a three-day naval exercise with South Korea in the Philippine Sea, reportedly their first joint exercise involving an aircraft carrier since November 2017, when that the countries are preparing to improve their defense exercises in the face of North Korean threats.
North Korea has long condemned allies’ combined military drills as invasion rehearsals and has often countered with its own missile drills, including short-range launches in 2016 and 2017 that simulated nuclear attacks on southern ports. Korean and US military installations in Japan.
Discussing the launches with his national security officials, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol lamented that North Korea is firing missiles at the rate of once every nine days this year and pledged to strengthen defense of the South alongside its alliance with the United States, according to his office.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for maximum efforts to gather information on the launches and to keep planes and ships safe, although no damage was immediately reported.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of the North Korean launches, but said the event did not pose an “immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies”.
The launches were North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone – a streak that included the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations in nearly five years – as it continues to operate a favorable environment to advance weapons development with the UN Security Council divided over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s tight-rope policy aims to force the United States to accept the idea that the North is a nuclear power and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength .
South Korean and US officials said there were signs North Korea was also continuing preparations at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern city of Punggye-ri. The North’s next nuclear test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit its ICBMs.
On Friday, Sung Kim, the US envoy, said Washington was “preparing for all eventualities” in close coordination with its Asian allies as he attended a trilateral meeting in Seoul with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
The United States has pledged to push for additional international sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, but the prospects for further UN Security Council action look bleak.
Russia and China have vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea for its latest ballistic tests on May 25, which the South Korean military said involved a ICBM flown on a medium-range trajectory and two short-range weapons. The tests came as Biden wrapped up his trip to South Korea and Japan, where he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to defending the two allies against the nuclear threat from the North.
In March, North Korea launched an ICBM almost straight to full capacity and saw it fly higher and longer than any weapon it had ever tested, demonstrating the potential to reach the entire American continent.
While Kim’s ICBMs have attracted much international attention, he has also spent the past three years expanding his arsenal of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea and Japan. He punctuated his tests with repeated comments that the North would proactively use its nuclear weapons when threatened or provoked, which experts say portends an escalating nuclear doctrine that could create greater concern for the world’s nations. neighbors.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the exchange of the release of crippling US-led sanctions against North Korea and North disarmament measures.
Despite worsening economic difficulties, Kim has shown no willingness to completely abandon an arsenal he sees as his best guarantee of survival and is clearly trying to convert the dormant denuclearization talks into a mutual arms reduction negotiation with the United States, according to experts.
Kim’s pressure campaign comes as the country faces a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 in its largely unvaccinated autocracy that lacks public health tools.
GAVI, the nonprofit that runs the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, said on Friday it understood North Korea had accepted an offer of vaccines from the Chinese ally and had begun administering doses. It is not immediately clear how many doses of which vaccines the North received or how the country was rolling them out.