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Projectiles fired by North Korea were ballistic missiles, US and Japan say

By SETH ROBSON AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 24, 2021

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its eastern coast, according to reports from U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials Thursday morning.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced the launch of a single “unidentified projectile” at 7.06 a.m. and a second at 7.25 a.m. They traveled about 280 miles, reaching an altitude of about 37 miles.

The South Korean government convened an urgent meeting of the country’s National Security Council at 9 a.m. in response to the launches.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga described the projectiles as “ballistic missiles” in a tweet that morning. An unnamed U.S. official quoted by the New York Times also referred to them as “ballistic missiles.”

“It threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region, and is a violation of UN resolutions,” Suga wrote, referring to the U.N. Security Council ban on North Korea developing and testing ballistic missiles. “I strongly protest and strongly condemn it. The government has confirmed that it has fallen into the Sea of Japan outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.”

Japan’s coast guard has warned vessels in that body of water, which is known in South Korea as the East Sea, to steer clear of any fallen objects and pass on their location, Nikkei Asia magazine reported.

U.S. Forces Korea has been consulting closely with South Korea and Japan and will continue to monitor the situation, spokesman Col. Lee Peters told Stars and Stripes in an email Thursday afternoon.

“This activity highlights the threat that North Korea's illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community,” he wrote. “The U.S. commitment to the defense of [South Korea] remains ironclad."

Recent launches by North Korea have been a serious issue for the international community, including Japan, said a statement Thursday from Japan’s defense ministry.

“We will do everything we can to collect and analyze information and to monitor the situation in order to protect the lives and properties of Japanese citizens," it said.

The launches come less than a week after Pyongyang fired multiple short-range missiles in the wake of a visit to Seoul by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

North Korea topped a list of issues they tackled during two days of talks with their South Korean counterparts.

The allies’ goals are clear, Blinken said: the denuclearization of North Korea, reducing the threat that country presents and “improving the lives of all Koreans, including North Koreans who suffer systematic abuses at the hands of their leaders.”

Last week North Korea, in its first statement geared toward the Biden administration, warned the U.S. not to ruffle any feathers.

"If [the U.S.] wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step," North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, said in a statement published March 16 in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

This month’s computer-simulated military drills between U.S. and South Korean forces drew Kim’s wrath.

“The South Korean government yet again chose the ‘March of War,’ the ‘March of Crisis,’” she said.

President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters Tuesday at the White House, said he didn’t consider last weekend’s missile tests to be a provocation.

“No, according to the Defense Department it’s business as usual,” he said. “There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”

Asked if the tests affect diplomacy the president laughed.

The latest missile launch is most likely a reaction to Biden's downplaying of the weekend missile tests, Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest said in emailed comments Thursday.

The North, just like during the Trump administration, will react to even the slightest of what it feels are any sort of loss of face or disparaging comments coming out of Washington, he said.

“While Biden's comments and chuckle were clearly not meant to trigger a reaction, the North Koreans will use any pretext that is offered to raise the ante — moving us closer and closer to the dark days of 2017,” he said.

In the months ahead, it’s likely the North Koreans will test bigger and more advanced missiles, he said.

“We should also expect a fiery response when the Biden North Korea policy is announced, which likely will be a pressure strategy to get the Kim regime to give up its nuclear weapons,” Kazianis said.

The stage is set for another round of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile and potentially even nuclear testing — and another U.S.-North Korea showdown, he said.
 

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

chang.kyong@stripes.com