SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Friday fired two short-range ballistic missiles in its third weapons launch this month, officials in South Korea said, in apparent retaliation for new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for its continued test launches.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles came from a landlocked area in western North Pyongan province.
Japan’s prime minister’s office and defense ministry also spotted the launch, while coast guards urged ships to watch for falling objects.
Hours earlier, North Korea issued a statement berating the Biden administration for imposing new sanctions over its missile tests and warning of stronger and more explicit measures if Washington maintains its “confrontational stance”.
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The sanctions targeted five North Koreans for their role in procuring equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in their response to the North’s missile test this week. It also said it would seek new UN sanctions.
The previous test launch of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday – the second in a week – was overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said it would greatly increase his country’s nuclear “war deterrence”.
North Korea has stepped up testing of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles designed to overwhelm the region’s missile defenses. Some pundits say Kim is returning to a tried-and-true technique of bullying the world with rocket launches and outrageous threats before offering negotiations to force concessions.
After an unusually provocative spate of nuclear and long-range missile tests in 2017 that showed the North’s aspiration to an arsenal that could target the American homeland, Kim entered into diplomacy with former President Donald Trump in 2018 to try to secure his Using nuclear weapons for economic purposes Benefits.
But negotiations stalled after Kim’s second summit with Trump in 2019, when Americans rejected his calls for greater sanctions relief in exchange for a partial handover of the North’s nuclear capabilities.
Kim has since pledged to continue building a nuclear arsenal, which he clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival, despite the country’s economy suffering major setbacks after it closed its borders during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as ongoing US-led sanctions.
His administration has so far rejected the Biden administration’s open-ended offer to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its “hostile policies” — a term Pyongyang uses primarily to describe sanctions and joint US-South Korea military exercises describe.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said North Korea seemed to be signaling that it would not be ignored and would respond with pressure if pressured.
“North Korea is trying to trap the Biden administration,” Easley said. “It has put missiles on hold that it wants to test anyway and is responding to US pressure with additional provocations to extort concessions.”
In a statement by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday, an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman defended the launches as a sincere exercise in self-defense.
The spokesman said the new sanctions underscore the US hostile intent to “isolate and smother” the North. The spokesman accused Washington of taking a “gangster-like” stance, saying the North’s development of the new missile was part of its effort to modernize its military and was not aimed at any particular country or threatening the security of its neighbors.
Hypersonic weapons, flying 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.
But experts say North Korea would need years and more successful longer-range testing before it can acquire a credible hypersonic system.