N. Korea fires likely missile in 3rd launch this month

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired at least one possible ballistic missile on Friday in its third weapons launch this month, South Korean and Japanese officials said, in apparent retaliation for news sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for its continued test launches.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the gun was fired east, but did not immediately say where it landed or provide further details.

Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office and Defense Ministry also said they detected the North Korean launch and said it may have been a ballistic missile.

The Japanese Coast Guard issued a security advisory, saying an object may have already landed. He urged ships between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, as well as the East China Sea and the North Pacific, to “pay attention to additional information and stay clear when recognizing a falling object.” .

The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five North Koreans for their role in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the North’s missile test this week. He also said he would seek further UN sanctions.

The Treasury Department’s announcement came just hours after North Korea said leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday that it said would dramatically increase ‘war deterrence’. nuclear power in the country.

Tuesday’s test was North Korea’s second demonstration of its alleged hypersonic missile in a week. In recent months, the country has stepped up testing of new, potentially nuclear missiles designed to overwhelm missile defense systems in the region, as it continues to expand its military capabilities amid a freeze in diplomacy with the United States. United.

In a statement released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the North’s launches of alleged hypersonic missiles as a virtuous exercise in self-defense.

The spokesman said the new sanctions underscore the hostile US intent to ‘isolate and stifle’ the North despite Washington’s repeated calls for Pyongyang to resume diplomacy that has stalled due to disagreements over sanctions relief and nuclear disarmament measures.

The spokesman accused the United States of maintaining a “gangster-like” stance, saying the North’s development of the new missile was part of its efforts to modernize its military and was not aimed at any particular country or threatening the safety of its neighbours.

“Nevertheless, the United States is intentionally aggravating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not just referring the DPRK’s rightful activity to the UN Security Council,” the spokesperson said, using an abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic. from Korea.

“It shows that although the current US administration trumpets diplomacy and dialogue, it is still engrossed in its policy of isolating and smothering the DPRK…If the US adopts such a confrontational stance , the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and stronger measures.” certain reaction,” the spokesperson said.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability.

Such weapons were on a wish list of sophisticated military assets Kim unveiled early last year, along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and nuclear missiles. launched by submarines.

Still, experts say North Korea would need years and more successful, longer-range tests before acquiring a credible hypersonic system.

The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a broader shift in US focus from counterterrorism and so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran to confrontation with China , said it was ready to resume talks with North Korea at any time without preconditions.

But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of ​​open talks, saying the United States must first withdraw its “hostile policy”, a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe sanctions and joint military exercises. American-South Korean.

In an interview with MSNBC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the North’s latest tests “deeply destabilizing” and said the United States was deeply engaged at the UN and with key partners, including allies. from South Korea and Japan, on a response.

“I think it’s partly North Korea trying to get attention. It’s done in the past. It probably will continue to do that,” Blinken said. “But we’re very focused with our allies and our partners to make sure that they and we are properly defended and that there are repercussions, consequences for these actions of North Korea.”

A US-led diplomatic push to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected North demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim Jong Un has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal that he clearly sees as his best guarantee of survival, despite major setbacks to the country’s economy due to pandemic-related border closures and ongoing sanctions. imposed by the United States.

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Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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