North Korea fires suspected ICBMs and 2 more missiles: South Korea

North Korea test-launched a suspected ICBM and two shorter-range weapons into the sea on Wednesday, South Korea said, hours after President Joe Biden completed a trip to Asia where he reaffirmed U.S. commitments to support its allies in the face of the world’s nuclear threat north.

If confirmed, it would be North Korea’s first ICBM launch in about two months amid a deadlocked nuclear diplomacy with the United States. North Korea broke its 2018 moratorium on long-range launches and in March claimed to have tested its long-range missile as part of its development of working nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the American homeland.

The launches came as North Korea made a much-disputed claim that its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak was weakening.

After an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, the South Korean government said North Korea had launched a suspected ICBM and two short-range ballistic missiles.

“North Korea’s continued provocations can only lead to stronger and faster combined deterrence between South Korea and the United States, and only deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” the South Korean government statement said. “(Our) government stands constantly ready to respond vigorously and effectively to any North Korean provocation of any kind.”

A man watches a newscast covering North Korea's missile launch at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, May 25, 2022.
A man watches a newscast covering North Korea’s missile launch at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, May 25, 2022.
AP

The South Korean military said the suspected ICBM reached a maximum altitude of 335 miles as it traveled 223 miles east after being fired from the north’s capital region. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North appeared to have lost the second rocket 12 miles in flight, while the third rocket flew 472 miles on an apogee of 37 miles.

A JCS statement said the US and South Korean militaries fired two surface-to-surface missiles to demonstrate Allied capability. The Allies had discovered North Korea’s preparations for the launches in advance. It said the South Korean air force conducted an “elephant walk” on Tuesday, during which 30 fully armed F-15K fighter jets paraded in formation along a runway.

The US Indo-Pacific Command previously said the missile launches “underscore the destabilizing effect of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program,” although they posed no immediate threat to US territory and its allies. A command statement said the US commitment to defending South Korea and Japan “remains unwavering.”

The launches came as North Korea made a much-disputed claim that its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak was weakening.
The launches came as North Korea made a much-disputed claim that its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak was weakening.
AP

The White House said Biden has been briefed on the North Korean missile launches and will continue to be briefed as information develops.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the launches were “an act of provocation and totally unacceptable.” He accused North Korea of ​​pushing ahead with its weapons development program while “ignoring people’s suffering as the coronavirus spreads in the country.”

The launches were North Korea’s 17th missile launch this year. Experts say the launches show North Korea’s determination to press ahead with its push to modernize its weapon arsenals, despite the COVID-19 outbreak, and to put more pressure on its rivals to force sanctions relief and other concessions amid dormant nuclear diplomacy.

US, South Korean and Japanese officials said North Korea could soon conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years.

“With Omicron raging across the country, it’s not the best time for Kim to get domestic credit for a nuclear test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “So the declaration of victory against COVID, at least in state propaganda, will probably come first. But North Korea will likely conduct its seventh nuclear test before engaging again in diplomacy.”

President Yoon Suk Yeol, front, arrives to attend the National Security Council (NSC) session in Seoul, South Korea, May 25, 2022.
President Yoon Suk Yeol, front, arrives to attend the National Security Council (NSC) session in Seoul, South Korea, May 25, 2022.
AP

North Korea’s unusual pace of weapons testing this year included an ICBM launch in March, its first since 2017. North Korea described that launch as a demonstration of its largest missile, the Hwasong-17. However, the South Korean military said the North may have launched a smaller ICBM instead. Whatever it was, the missile flew longer and higher than any other weapon the North has ever tested and had the potential range to reach the entire US mainland, experts say.

Following their summit in Seoul on Saturday, Biden and Yoon said they would consider expanded military drills to ward off North Korean nuclear threats.

Biden brushed aside questions about possible provocations by North Korea during his trip, saying, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.” When asked if he had a message for North leader Kim Jong Un, Biden responded curtly : “Hi. Period.”

Biden later met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, and they pledged to work closely together to address security challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic programs and what they called China’s “increasingly coerced” behavior in the region.

Before Wednesday, North Korea’s last missile tests took place on May 12, hours after the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak and ended a widely disputed claim of being coronavirus-free for more than two years.

The country has said in recent days there has been “a positive sign” in its anti-virus campaign. Since admitting the outbreak, North Korea has identified about 3 million cases of an unidentified fever and claims only a small fraction are COVID-19.

Experts say the launches show North Korea's determination to press ahead with its push to modernize its weapon arsenals.
Experts say the launches show North Korea’s determination to press ahead with its push to modernize its weapon arsenals.
AP

On Wednesday, state media reported no further deaths from the fever for the second day in a row. The 68 reported deaths is an extremely low number for COVID-19. Experts doubt the figures given. North Korea has limited health resources and may underreport deaths to prevent possible political damage to Kim.

North Korea has so far ignored offers from South Korea and the US to send vaccines, medicines and other supplies. Much of North Korea’s 26 million people are still unvaccinated, and the country’s once free socialist public health system has been in shambles for decades.

“At a time when the North Korean people are suffering the pain of the spread of COVID-19, North Korea is using its crucial resources to develop nuclear weapons and missiles instead of taking measures to combat the virus and improve livelihoods, which is very is unfortunate,” South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/25/north-korea-fires-suspected-icbm-and-2-other-missiles-south-korea/ North Korea fires suspected ICBMs and 2 more missiles: South Korea

JACLYN DIAZ

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