North Korea has been testing long-range missiles since 2017

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea on Sunday fired what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested since US President Joe Biden took office, possibly breaking a self-imposed suspension of longer-range weapons testing while being revived. its old playbook in brinkmanship to deduct concessions from Washington and neighbors in the midst of a protracted stalemate in diplomacy.

The Japanese and South Korean militaries said the missile was launched on an elevated trajectory, apparently to avoid neighbors’ territorial space, reaching a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) and traveling 800 kilometers (497 miles) before landing in the sea. .

The flight details suggest that North tested its longest-range ballistic missile since 2017, when it twice flew medium-range ballistic missiles over Japan and separately tested three intercontinental-range ballistic missiles that demonstrated the potential range to reach deep into the U.S. homeland. .

Sunday’s test was the Nordic region’s 7th round of arms launches this month. The unusually rapid test pace indicates that North Korea intends to pressure the Biden administration over protracted nuclear negotiations, as pandemic-related difficulties trigger further shock at an economy broken by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, describing the test as a possible “medium-range ballistic missile launch” that put North Korea on the brink of breaking its 2018 suspension in testing nuclear devices and beyond. range ballistic missiles.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters that it was clear that the missile was the longest-range weapon the Nordic region has tested since the launch of its Hwasong-15 ICBM in November 2017.

The launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un chaired a government party meeting on January 20, in which senior party members made a veiled threat to lift the moratorium, citing what they perceived as US hostility and threats. Kim declared in April 2018 that “no nuclear test and intermittent and intercontinental ballistic missile silence” was necessary for the Nordic region anymore, as he pursued diplomacy with then-US President Donald Trump in an attempt to exploit his nuclear weapons for much-needed economic benefits.

Recent missile flight details suggest North Korea’s moratorium has already been breached, said Lee Choon Geun, a missile expert and honorary researcher at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute. He said the data suggest the Nordic region was testing a medium-range ballistic missile or possibly even a weapon approaching ICBM capabilities.

In his strongest comments to the north for years, Moon said the situation around the Korean Peninsula is starting to look like 2017, when North Korea’s provocative run in nuclear and long-range missile tests resulted in a verbal exchange of war threats between Kim and Trump.

Moon described the recent Nordic tests as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a “challenge to the international community’s efforts to atomize the Korean Peninsula, stabilize peace and find a diplomatic solution” to the nuclear standoff.

The Nordic region “should stop its actions that create tension and pressure and respond to dialogue offers from the international community, including South Korea and the United States,” Moon said according to his office.

Moon, who had ambitiously pushed for inter-Korean engagement, held three summits with Kim in 2018, while also lobbying to establish Kim’s first summit with Trump in 2018, where they aired vague ambitions for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula without describing when and how it would happen. But diplomacy derailed after the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for greater sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Japanese Cabinet Chief Hirokazu Matsuno said Sunday’s missile flew for about 30 minutes and landed in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. There were no immediate reports of injuries to boats or aircraft.

The launch came three days after North Korea on Thursday fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea. The Nordics also tested a pair of alleged long-range cruise missiles on Tuesday, while promising to strengthen its nuclear “war deterrent” and build more powerful weapons.

Experts say the Nordic region could halt its test drive after the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next week out of respect for China, its major ally and economic lifeline. But there is also an expectation that the Nordic countries can significantly step up in arms demonstrations when the Olympics end in February to capture the attention of the Biden administration, which has focused more on confronting China and Russia about their conflict with Ukraine.

“North Korea is launching a missile frenzy before the start of the Beijing Olympics, mostly as military modernization efforts. Pyongyang also wants to boost national pride as it prepares to celebrate political anniversaries in the context of economic struggles,” said Leif-Eric. Easley, professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“It would remind Washington and Seoul that it would be too expensive to try to overthrow it. By threatening the stability of Asia, while global resources are stretched thin elsewhere, Pyongyang is demanding that the world compensate it for behaving like a ‘responsible nuclear power’, ”Easley added.

North Korea has justified its testing activity as an exercise of its right to self-defense and threatened with stronger action after the Biden administration imposed new sanctions after two tests of an alleged hypersonic missile earlier this month.

While desperate for outside aid, Kim has shown no willingness to surrender the nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival. Analysts say Kim’s press campaign is aimed at forcing Washington to accept the Nordic region as a nuclear power and convert their nuclear disarmament-to-aid diplomacy into negotiations on mutual arms reduction.

Last year, Kim announced a new five-year weapons development plan and released an ambitious wish list that included hypersonic weapons, spy satellites, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-fired nuclear missiles.

State media said Friday that Kim was visiting an unspecified munitions factory that produced a “large-scale weapons system” and that workers promised loyalty to their leader, who “with his bold move smashes the challenges of American imperialists and their vassal forces.”

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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