North Korea yesterday test-fired its first ballistic missiles since US President Joe Biden took office, as it expands its military capabilities and increases pressure on Washington as nuclear negotiations remain stalled.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the launches threatened “peace and safety in Japan and the region,” and that Tokyo would closely coordinate with Washington and Seoul on North Korea’s testing activities.
South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong, after meeting with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov in Seoul, expressed “deep concern” over the launches and urged North Korea to uphold its commitments for peace.
Lavrov called for a swift resumption of dialogue to resolve the standoff with North Korea.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the two short-range missiles were fired at 7:06am and 7:25am from an area on North Korea’s eastern coast and flew 450km on an apogee of 60km before landing in the sea.
It said that South Korea’s military has stepped up monitoring in case of “further provocations” from North Korea.
A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, matched the information from South Korea’s military, saying that initial assessments suggested that North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles.
“This activity highlights the threat that North Korea’s illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community,” US Indo-Pacific Command spokesman Captain Mike Kafka said.
The launches came a day after US and South Korean officials said that North Korea fired short-range weapons presumed to be cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea on Sunday.
North Korea has a history of testing new US administrations with missile launches and other provocations aimed at forcing the US back to the negotiating table.
Yesterday’s launches were a measured provocation compared with the nuclear and intercontinental missile tests in 2017, which inspired war fears before North Korea shifted toward diplomacy with the administration of former US president Donald Trump in 2018.
Analysts have said that North Korea would gradually dial up its weapons displays to increase its bargaining power as it angles to get back into stalled talks aimed at leveraging nuclear weapons for badly needed economic benefits.
It is unclear how the Biden administration would respond before it completes its policy review on North Korea in the coming weeks.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from South Korea’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said that flight data released by South Korea’s military suggested that North Korea possibly tested a new solid-fuel system modeled after Russia’s 9K720 Iskander mobile ballistic missile.
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