March 24, 2023

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North Korea launches intercontinental ballistic missiles, apparently before the South Korea-Japan summit

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan on Thursday, hours before the South Korean president was due to travel to Tokyo for a summit expected to discuss ways to achieve it. Confronting the nuclear armed North.

North Korea has conducted several missile launches this week amid joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States that Pyongyang condemns as hostilities.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile, which was launched at 7:10 am (2210 GMT Wednesday) from Pyongyang, flew about 1,000 kilometers in an elevated trajectory.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense said that the ICBM appeared to have flown at an altitude of more than 6,000 km for 70 minutes.

The ministry said it was likely to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zones, 200 kilometers west of Oshima Oshima Island in Hokkaido, northern Japan.

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Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Japan had not confirmed any information about the damage caused by the missile, adding that it had lodged a protest through the North Korean embassy in Beijing.

“North Korea’s missile launch is a barbaric act that escalates its provocation to the entire international community,” Matsuno said. “We will confirm close cooperation with South Korea and the United States for the complete denuclearization of North Korea at today’s Japan-South Korea summit,” he added.

South Korea held a meeting of the National Security Council and “strongly condemned” the missile launch, describing it as a serious provocation that threatens international peace.

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South Korean President Yoon Sok-yol has ordered his country’s military to conduct exercises with the United States as planned, saying North Korea will pay for its “reckless provocations,” according to his office.

South Korean and US forces began 11 days of joint exercises, dubbed “Freedom Shield 23,” on Monday, on a scale not seen since 2017, to counter North Korea’s growing threats. North Korea has long worried about the allied drills as a rehearsal for invasion.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will also hold a National Security Council meeting on the launch.

“Regional peace and stability are the most important issue for the countries concerned,” Kishida told reporters. “We need to build closer cooperation with all allies and friendly countries.”

Yoon is heading to Japan for the first such summit with Kishida in more than a decade, as part of an effort to overcome historical, political and economic disputes in the name of better cooperation to confront North Korea and other challenges.

As part of the effort, the two US allies agreed to share real-time tracking of North Korean missile launches, and pledged to further deepen military cooperation.

Nuclear-armed North Korea fired an unprecedented number of missiles last year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the United States, as it resumes preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017.

North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs are banned by UN Security Council resolutions, but Pyongyang says the weapons development is necessary to counter “hostile policies” by Washington and its allies.

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North Korea’s official news agency said on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un led a meeting of the ruling party to discuss and decide on “important practical” war deterrence measures, saying that “the provocations of the United States and South Korea have reached a red line.”

Additional reporting by Hyunsu Yim, Josh Smith, Soo-hyang Choi, and Ju-min Park in Seoul, and Kantaro Komiya and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; Editing by Sandra Mahler and Jerry Doyle

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