NKorea Fires 2 Missiles in 6th Launch 01/27 06:10
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea on Thursday fired two suspected
ballistic missiles into the sea in its sixth round of weapons launches this
month, South Korea's military said.
Experts say North Korea's unusually fast pace in testing activity
underscores an intent to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled
negotiations aimed at exchanging a release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions
against the North and the North's denuclearization steps.
The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes the North's
economy, which was already battered by crippling U.S.-led sanctions over its
nuclear weapons program and decades of mismanagement by its own government.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons, which were likely
short-range, were launched five minutes apart from the eastern coastal town of
Hamhung and flew 190 kilometers (118 miles) on an apogee of 20 kilometers (12.4
miles) before landing at sea.
Aviation authorities issued a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, for pilots
operating in South Korean airspace, advising them of a "missile launched from
North Korea" and that they maintain close communication with air traffic
controls, according to the website of South Korea's Office of Civil Aviation.
The U.S. Indo Pacific Command said the latest launches, while highlighting
the destabilizing impact of North Korea's weapons program, didn't pose an
"immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies."
Japan said the missiles didn't reach its exclusive economic zone and that
there were no reports of damage to vessels or aircraft around its coast.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the North's repeated missile firings
were "extremely regrettable" and violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Senior South Korean security and military officials gathered for an
emergency National Security Council meeting where they expressed strong regret
over the North's continuing launches and urged Pyongyang to recommit to
dialogue, Seoul's presidential office said.
The North also last week issued a veiled threat to resume the testing of
nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland,
which leader Kim Jong Un suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with the
Kim's high-stakes summitry with then-President Donald Trump derailed in 2019
after the Americans rejected North Korea's demands for major sanctions relief
in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Some experts say North Korea could dramatically escalate weapons
demonstrations after the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4 in China, the
North's main ally and economic lifeline.
They say Pyongyang's leadership likely feels it could use a dramatic
provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has been
preoccupied with bigger adversaries including China and Russia.
The Biden administration has offered open-ended talks but showed no
willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon the
nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
The North has been ramping up its testing activity since last fall,
demonstrating various missiles and delivery systems apparently designed to
overwhelm missile defense systems in the region.
Experts say Kim is trying to apply more pressure on rivals Washington and
Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of winning relief from economic
sanctions and convert the diplomacy with Washington into mutual arms-reduction
Thursday's launch came two days after South Korea's military detected the
North flight-testing two suspected cruise missiles at an unspecified inland
North Korea opened 2022 with a pair of test-firings of a purported
hypersonic missile, which Kim described as an asset that would remarkably
bolster his nuclear "war deterrent."
The North also this month test-fired two different types of short-range
ballistic missiles it has developed since 2019 that are designed to be
maneuverable and fly at low altitudes, which experts say potentially improve
their chances of evading and defeating missile defense systems.
In a ruling party meeting attended by Kim last week, the North accused the
Biden administration of hostility and threats and said it will consider "all
temporally-suspended activities" it had paused during its diplomacy with the
Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear
explosives and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry had earlier warned of "stronger and certain
reaction" after the Biden administration imposed fresh sanctions following the
North's second hypersonic test on Jan. 11.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over
their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the country's missile
programs, while the State Department ordered sanctions against another North
Korean, a Russian man and a Russian company for their broader support of North
Korea's weapons activities.
However, Washington's efforts to seek new U.N. Security Council sanctions
against the five North Koreans sanctioned by the Treasury Department were
blocked last week by China and Russia, which have called for the U.N. to end
key sanctions against the North, citing its economic difficulties.
"Despite efforts to strengthen sanctions, Washington's responses to North
Korean launches this month are nowhere near its reaction to Pyongyang's
provocations in 2017," when the North staged an unusually provocative run in
nuclear and ICBM tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University
"U.S. policy has become more measured and coordinated but is still
inadequate for changing North Korean behavior. The Biden administration has
other priorities, ranging from pandemic recovery at home to confronting Russia
over Ukraine, Iran regarding its nuclear program, and China across the board,"
Despite international concerns over its weapons activity, North Korea will
still get to chair a U.N. disarmament forum during a one-month presidency
between May 30 and June 24, according to a U.N. statement.
The U.N. Conference on Disarmament, which has 65 member states and focuses
on nuclear disarmament issues, says the conference's presidency rotates among
U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based activist group, called for the U.S. and European
ambassadors to walk out of the conference during North Korea's presidency,
saying that the country threatens to attack other U.N. member states with
missiles and commits atrocities against its own people.