ANOTHER ROUND A television screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s latest missile launch with file footage is seen at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea’s capital Seoul on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. AP PHOTO
SEOUL: North Korea on Saturday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles, its neighbors said, the fourth round this week of weapons launches that prompted quick, strong condemnation from its rivals.
In an unusually strong rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Pyongyang’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons was deepening the suffering of its own people, and warned of an “overwhelming response” from the South Korean and United States militaries should such weapons be used.
“North Korea hasn’t abandoned its obsession with nukes and missiles despite the persistent international objection in the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of North Korean people” into more pain.
“If North Korea attempts to use nukes, it’ll face a resolute, overwhelming response by the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” he added.
Yoon’s comments could enrage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has alleged that Yoon’s government was led by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” Kim has already rebuffed Yoon’s offers of massive aid and support plans in return for denuclearization.
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The North’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent naval drills between Seoul and Washington and their other training that involved Japan. North Korea views such military exercises by the allies as an invasion rehearsal and argues they reveal American and South Korean “double standards” because they brand the North’s weapons tests as a provocation.
On Saturday, the South Korean, Japanese and US militaries said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. Seoul said the liftoffs occurred in the North’s capital region.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles flew about 350 to 400 kilometers (220 to 250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30-50 km (20-30 mi) before they landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missiles showed “irregular” trajectory.
Some observers say the weapons’ reported low and irregular trajectory suggests they were likely nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed Iskander-like missiles to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and strike key targets in the South, including American military bases there.
The five other ballistic missiles that the North fired on three occasions this week show similar trajectories to the ones detected on Saturday.
“The repeated ballistic missile firings by North Korea are a grave provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Ino called the launches “absolutely impermissible,” noting that four rounds of missile testing by North Korea in a week were “unprecedented.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlighted “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
On Friday, South Korea, Japan and the US held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. Earlier this week, South Korean and US warships held bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military drills this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group.
The North Korean missile tests this week also bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent visit to South Korea, where she reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.
Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North last month adopted a new law authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalatory nuclear doctrine.
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