North Korea has fired a long-range ballistic missile, the South Korean military said on Wednesday, days after Pyongyang threatened to shoot down US spy planes that violated its airspace.
Relations between the two Koreas are at an all-time low, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for increased weapons development, including tactical nuclear weapons.
In response, Seoul and Washington stepped up security cooperation, vowing that Pyongyang would face a nuclear response and the “end” of its current government if it were ever to use its nuclear weapons against allies.
The South Korean military said it detected the launch of a long-range ballistic missile from the Pyongyang area around 10 a.m. (0100 GMT).
“The ballistic missile was fired on a high trajectory and traveled 1,000 km (620 miles) before crashing into the East Sea,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.
A high trajectory involves firing a missile upwards and not outwards, a method Pyongyang has previously said it uses in some weapons tests to avoid flying over neighboring countries.
The launch “is a serious provocation that undermines the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula” and violates United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang, the JCS said, calling on North Korea to end such actions.
The United States and its allies, including France, also strongly condemned the launch.
“This launch is in flagrant violation of several UN Security Council resolutions and unnecessarily heightens tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said. in a press release.
Pyongyang last fired one of its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles in April – the so-called solid-fueled Hwasong-18 – and in February launched a Hwasong-15, which traveled a similar 989 kilometres.
The flight time of around 70 minutes is also similar to some of North Korea’s previous ICBM launches, experts said.
“Given what we have at this point, it’s about 90% certain that it was an ICBM launch,” military studies professor Choi Gi-il told AFP. at Sangji University.
He added that it could also have been North Korea trying to retest its satellite launch technology to prepare for another attempt to put a spy satellite into orbit, after a failed launch in May.
– “Provocative” US actions –
Wednesday’s launch came after North Korea on Monday accused a US spy plane of violating its airspace and condemned Washington’s plans to deploy a nuclear-launched submarine near the Korean peninsula.
A spokesperson for North Korea’s Ministry of National Defense says the US has ‘intensified espionage activity beyond wartime level’, citing ‘provocative’ spy plane flights for eight days consecutive this month.
“There is no guarantee that such a shocking accident as the downing of the US Air Force strategic reconnaissance aircraft will not happen in the East Sea of Korea,” the carrier added. word.
Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, said a US spy plane violated eastern airspace twice on Monday morning, according to a separate statement.
Kim Yo Jong said North Korea would not respond directly to US reconnaissance activities outside the country’s exclusive economic zone, but warned it would take ‘decisive action’ if its maritime military demarcation line was crossed .
The United States said in April that one of its nuclear-armed ballistic submarines would visit a South Korean port for the first time in decades, without specifying an exact date.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has stepped up defense cooperation with Washington in response, holding joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and long-range heavy bombers.
Yoon is due to attend a NATO summit in Lithuania this week, seeking to strengthen cooperation with alliance members over North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
“Kim Yo Jong’s belligerent statement against US surveillance planes is part of a North Korean pattern of inflating external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons testing,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is also timing its shows of force to disrupt what it perceives as diplomatic coordination against it, in this case, the meeting of South Korean and Japanese leaders at the NATO summit.”
In Washington, NSC spokesman Hodge called on North Korea “to come to the table for serious negotiations.”
“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions and choose diplomatic engagement instead,” he said, stressing that the United States “will take all measures necessary” to ensure its security and that of its allies, South Korea and Japan. .