North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, just a week after leader Kim Jong-un vowed to bolster Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal at the “highest possible speed”.
The launch was the latest in a series of sanctions that have passed North Korean weapons tests so far this year, and came after US and South Korean officials warned that Pyongyang was preparing to resume nuclear tests.
“A ballistic missile fired by North Korea at 1203 (0303 GMT) today from near Sunan toward the Baltic Sea (Sea of Japan),” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
“Currently, our military maintains the Preparedness Position by tracking and tracking related movements in preparation for additional launches.”
The Japanese Coast Guard also said North Korea may have launched a ballistic missile.
The nuclear-armed state made a dramatic return to long-range launches in March, testing at full range its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile — which could potentially reach the continental United States.
Such tests had been interrupted as Kim met then-US President Donald Trump over diplomacy that collapsed in 2019.
Since then, talks have stalled, and despite harsh sanctions, North Korea has redoubled its pursuit of military modernization.
More nuclear weapons?
Kim Jong-un said at a military parade last week that he would take steps to “develop our state’s nuclear forces at the fastest possible speed,” according to images of his speech broadcast on state media.
“The nuclear force, the symbol of our national strength and the core of our military might, must be strengthened in both quality and scale.”
Repeated negotiations to convince Kim to give up his nuclear weapons programs have come to nothing.
“There’s a good chance they fired a missile that could be equipped with a nuclear warhead,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean scientist, told AFP.
Kim also warned that he could use his nuclear force “pre-emptively” to counter enemy forces during a meeting with top military personnel last week.
The latest weapons test came just days before South Korea’s incoming president Yoon Suk-yeol took office next week, who has vowed a tougher stance on the north.
“It could be a warning to… Yoon,” said Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Yoon has hinted that he will only talk about peace if North Korea confirms its readiness for denuclearization — something Pyongyang will never accept, Hong Min said.
“It could also signal Pyongyang’s position that it will have no choice but to further expand its arsenal if Seoul and Washington decide to deploy strategic military assets in the south,” he added.
US President Joe Biden will visit South Korea in May.
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