SEOUL, South Korea — (AP) — North Korea launched a ballistic missile towards its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed to building up its nuclear arsenal “at the fastest pace possible”. and threatened to use them against rivals.
The launch, the North’s 14th weapons launch this year, also came six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the northern capital region and flew to waters off its eastern coast. He said the South Korean military was monitoring possible additional weapons launches by North Korea.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said North Korea fired a possible ballistic missile without providing further details. The Japanese Coast Guard has urged ships traveling off the Japanese coast to stay clear of any possible fragments.
The Japanese government set up an emergency task force to deal with the missile launch and noted that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, currently in Rome for talks with Italian officials, had asked officials to do their utmost possible in an emergency and to protect the safety of the people. than ships and planes around Japan.
Observers say North Korea’s unusually fast pace of weapons testing this year underscores its dual goals of advancing its missile programs and pressuring Washington for a deep freeze on nuclear negotiations. They say Kim ultimately aims to use his expanded arsenal to win international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state which he says would help force the United States to ease international economic sanctions against the North.
One of the North Korean missiles tested recently was an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching all of US territory. The launch of this missile broke Kim’s self-imposed 2018 moratorium on heavy weapons testing.
There are signs that the North is also preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeast test facility. If realized, North Korea’s atomic bomb blast would be the seventh of its kind and the first since 2017.
Last week, Kim Jong Un showcased his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles targeting both the United States and its allies in a massive military parade in the capital, Pyongyang. During a speech at the parade, Kim said he would build up his arsenal at “the fastest pace possible” and warned that the North would use its nuclear weapons preemptively if its national interests were threatened.
North Korea has already launched harsh rhetoric threatening to attack its rivals with its nuclear weapons. But the fact that Kim made the threat himself and in detail has caused security concerns among some South Koreans. Taken together with North Korea’s recent tests of short-range nuclear-capable missiles, some experts believe North Korea’s potentially escalating nuclear doctrine would allow it to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on South Korea in some cases.
Wednesday’s launch came ahead of the May 10 inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who pledged to bolster Seoul’s missile capability and cement its military alliance with Washington to better deal with threats North Korea’s growing nuclear power.
North Korea has a history of stirring up animosities with weapons tests when Seoul and Washington inaugurate new governments with the apparent aim of bolstering its influence in future negotiations.
Some experts say the Biden administration’s passive management of North Korea as it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a growing rivalry with China leaves more room for the North to expand its military capabilities.
The Biden administration’s actions against North Korea have so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions and offers of open talks. North Korea has rejected the administration’s offer of talks, saying it must first abandon its ‘hostile policy’, in an apparent reference to US-led international sanctions and joint US military exercises. -South Koreans.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.
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