SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile at sea on Tuesday in what the South Korean military described as a weapon likely designed for launches from submarines, marking perhaps the most significant display of northern military might since President Joe Biden took office.
The launch came hours after the United States reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. He highlighted how the North continues to expand its military capabilities amid a hiatus in diplomacy.
Officials from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said they were “aware of the North Korean ballistic missile launch this morning in the Sea of Japan and were consulting closely with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, as well as other allies and regional partners, “according to a statement from INDOPACOM.” The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from any further destabilizing acts. Although we have assessed that this event does not constitute an immediate threat for US personnel, territory or our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation The United States’ commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains rock-solid.
The Southern Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that they detected that the North had fired a short-range missile it believed to be a ballistic missile launched by a submarine from waters near the eastern port of Sinpo. , and that the South Korean and American military were closely analyzing the launch.
The South Korean military said the launch was carried out at sea, but did not say whether it was fired from a submerged vessel or another platform. launch above the sea surface.
The Japanese military said its initial analysis suggested the North fired two ballistic missiles and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were examining whether they were SLBMs.
After the launch, Kishida interrupted a campaign trip ahead of the Japanese parliamentary elections later this month, returning to Tokyo. The leader ordered his government to start revising the country’s national security strategy to adapt to growing threats from North Korea.
“We cannot ignore North Korea’s recent development in missile technology and its impact on the security of Japan and the region,” he said.
South Korean officials held a National Security Council meeting and expressed “deep regret” for the launch, which took place despite efforts to revive diplomacy. A strong South Korean response could anger North Korea, which has accused Seoul of hypocrisy for criticizing the North’s weapons testing while developing its own conventional military capabilities.
The apparent missile firing site – a shipyard in Sinpo – is a major defense industry hub where North Korea concentrates its submarine production. In recent years, the North has also used Sinpo to develop ballistic weapon systems designed to be fired from submarines.
North Korea last tested an SLBM in October 2019.
Analysts expected the North to resume testing of these weapons after deploying at least two new SLBMs in military parades in 2020 and 2021. There were also signs that the North is trying to build a bigger sub. -marine which would be able to transport and fire several missiles.
Japan’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary-General Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo had lodged a “strong protest” against North Korea through “the usual channels”, ie their embassies in Beijing. Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at a “critical stage” and called for a renewed commitment to diplomatically resolve the issue.
Ending a months-long lull in September, North Korea has stepped up weapons testing while making conditional peace offers in Seoul, reigniting a tendency to pressure South Korea to try to obtain what she wants from the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “is developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles because he wants a tougher nuclear deterrent capable of blackmailing his neighbors and the United States,” Professor Leif-Eric Easley said. of International Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. .
Easley added that North Korea “cannot politically afford to appear to be lagging behind in a regional arms race” with its neighbor to the south.
“The North Korean SLBM is probably far from being operationally deployed with a nuclear warhead,” he added.
North Korea has worked for years to acquire the ability to fire nuclear missiles from submarines, the next key piece in Kim Jong Un’s arsenal which includes a wide range of road mobile missiles and d ‘ICBM with potential reach to reach the American homeland.
Still, experts say it would take years, resources and major technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build a fleet of at least several submarines that could travel quietly at sea and execute strikes reliably.
In a few days, Biden’s special envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim, is expected to meet with US allies in Seoul on the prospects of relaunching talks with North Korea.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than two years due to disagreements over the exchange of crippling US-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s denuclearization measures.
But as North Korea apparently tries to use South Korea’s desire for an inter-Korean engagement to gain concessions from Washington, analysts say Seoul has little room for maneuver as the Biden administration has the intention to keep the sanctions in place until the North takes concrete steps towards denuclearization.
“The United States continues to reach out to Pyongyang to resume dialogue. Our intention remains the same. We have no hostile intentions towards the DPRK and we are open to a meeting without preconditions, ”Sung Kim told reporters on Monday.
Last week, Kim Jong Un reviewed powerful missiles designed to launch nuclear strikes on the Americas at a military exhibition and vowed to build an “invincible” army to deal with what he called the continued hostility of the United States. Previously, Kim had rejected US offers to resume talks without preconditions as a “shrewd” attempt to cover up his hostile policies towards the North.
The country has tested various weapons over the past month, including a new cruise missile that could potentially carry nuclear warheads and a hypersonic development missile.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea’s latest launch did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of its allies.
AP editors Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Matthew Lee in Washington, and AP video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing and Defense News reporter Joe Gould in Kiev contributed to this report.