North Korea fires its longest-range missile since 2017, the latest in a string of test launches

SEOUL — North Korea on Sunday conducted what appeared to be its longest-range missile test in five years as it ramps up military pressure amid long-stalled nuclear talks.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired from North Korea’s Jagang province toward its east coast and into the ocean. The missile, detected at 7: 52 a.m. local time, flew 800 kilometers (497 miles) and reached an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles), the Joint Chiefs said.

The missile appears to have fallen into waters outside the country’s maritime exclusive economic zone, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, according to Kyodo News. According to Kyodo, Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Prime Minister strongly condemned the weapon test and called a meeting with the nation security council.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of his country’s national security council to discuss North Korea’s weapons test. Moon criticized the intermediate-range missile test as “a challenge to the international community’s efforts for a diplomatic solution and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

North Korea has not tested its longest-range ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons since 2017, when it conducted a nuclear test and test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. Following the missile test Sunday morning, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies but called on North Korea to “refrain from further destabilizing acts.”

The flurry of weapons tests in 2017 led to punishing economic sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, declared a moratorium against nuclear and intercontinental missile testing in the following year and began diplomacy efforts.

However, Pyongyang suggested this month that it may lift the self-imposed moratorium, citing the need to counter hostility from the United States. In the midst of a prolonged stalemate with nuclear negotiations, experts say North Korea is increasing pressure on Washington to make concessions.

Sunday’s launch marks North Korea’s seventh weapons test this month, more than it conducted all of last year.

Last week, North Korea said it successfully tested long-range cruise missiles and “surface-to-surface tactical guided” ballistic missiles.

Despite the sanctions, North Korea has been building up its missile capabilities under Kim’s directive. He announced last year a five-year plan to develop weapons and promised arms modernization. North Korean state media said Friday that Kim inspected a munitions factory and called for the production of “powerful cutting-edge arms.”

This month, the Biden administration imposed fresh sanctions over North Korea’s weapons program after Pyongyang said it tested hypersonic missiles. The new sanctions were met with anger by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, which stated that its weapons program was defensive.

The relationship between Pyongyang and Washington has soured since Kim’s nuclear summit with then-President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019 because of disagreements over sanctions relief in exchange for denuclearization. Pyongyang refused to accept the Biden administration’s offer to have talks at “anytime and anywhere”, without any preconditions.

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