SEOUL, March 14 (AP) – North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday, a day after the United States and South Korea began military exercises that Pyongyang viewed as an invasion exercise.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile fired from the southwestern coastal town of Gangyon flew over North Korea before falling into the sea off the country’s east coast. It said both missiles traveled about 620 kilometers (385 miles).
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The reported flight distances indicated that the missiles were aimed at South Korea, which is home to about 28,000 U.S. troops. The South Korean military called the launch a “serious provocation” to destabilize the Korean peninsula.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Tuesday’s launch posed no immediate threat to its allies. But it said North Korea’s recent tests highlighted the “destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s illicit weapons program and that the United States’ security commitment to South Korea and Japan remained “unwavering”.
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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that officials were still gathering details of the North Korean launch and there were no immediate reports of damage in Japanese waters.
Pyongyang is likely to further escalate its weapons tests in the coming days in a tit-for-tat response to the allied military drills, which are scheduled to run until March 23. Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his troops to stand ready to repel what his country’s rivals called a “frenzied war readiness operation.”
Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown sharply after North Korea tested more than 70 missiles in 2022, many of them nuclear-capable weapons, and publicly threatened to use them in a potential conflict with the United States and South Korea.
North Korea appears to be using long-stalled talks with Washington and expanding U.S.-South Korea exercises as an opportunity to expand its arsenal to increase its leverage in future dealings with the United States.
Threats from North Korea and an increasingly assertive attitude from China have prompted the United States to seek stronger alliances with South Korea and Japan. But some experts say cementing Washington-Seoul-Tokyo cooperation could prompt Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow to strengthen the trilateral relationship.
China and Russia, embroiled in a separate confrontation with the United States, have repeatedly blocked efforts by the United States and its allies to tighten U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
Tuesday’s launch was North Korea’s second weapons test this week. On Monday, North Korea said it had tested two cruise missiles from a submarine the previous day. That hints that cruise missiles are being developed to carry nuclear warheads, even as outside experts debate whether Pyongyang has an effective nuclear-armed missile.
Submarine-launched missile systems are harder to detect and could provide North Korea with a second retaliatory strike capability. But experts say it will take years, vast resources and major technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build a fleet of submarines that can sail quietly and carry out strikes reliably.
North Korea has been improving its submarine launch capability since its first test in 2016, and the United States is studying Sunday’s launch to assess North Korea’s capabilities, U.S. national security adviser Jack Sullivan said on Monday.
“But of course, we will not allow any steps by North Korea to prevent or limit us from taking actions that we believe are necessary to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula,” Sullivan said.
The joint U.S.-South Korea drills, which began Monday, include computer simulations involving North Korean aggression and other security scenarios as well as live exercises.
According to South Korean defense officials, the on-the-ground exercise will resume the largest spring exercise by the coalition last held in 2018.
The two countries have been expanding the drills amid the growing North Korean nuclear threat.
Jeon Ha Gyu, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said on Tuesday that the U.S.-South Korea exercises would proceed normally regardless of “whether North Korea tries to disrupt the U.S.-South Korea exercises through provocative actions such as missile launches.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that the U.S. has made it clear that it has no hostility toward North Korea and that the long-running exercises by the allies are “purely defensive.”
The top nuclear envoys of South Korea and the United States held a second phone call on Tuesday to discuss North Korea’s launch, stressing that North Korea would face “clear consequences” for its actions, without specifying what those consequences would be.
They said the allies would maintain “firm readiness” to respond to any form of North Korean provocation, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.
Later this week, South Korean President Yoon Hee-yeol will visit Tokyo for a summit with Kishida, where the North Korean threat is expected to dominate the agenda. A shared sense of security urgency is pushing Seoul and Tokyo closer after years of dispute over Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula before the end of World War II. (Associated Press)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)