October 03, 2019
SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea fired a ballistic missile from the sea on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, a suggestion that it may have tested an underwater-launched missile for the first time in three years ahead of a resumption of nuclear talks with the United States this weekend.
The North Korea missile flew about 450 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 910 kilometers after liftoff from an unspecified place in the waters off the North’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
South Korean and US intelligence authorities were analyzing more details of the launch, it said.
Japan lodged an immediate protest against North Korea, saying the missile landed inside Japan’s economic exclusive zone. If confirmed, it would be the first North Korean missile that has landed that close to Japan since November 2017.
South Korean military officials wouldn’t officially disclose whether the missile was fired from a submarine, a barge or another possible platform.
But during an emergency National Security Council meeting, council members placed weight on the possibility that North Korea performed a submarine-launched missile test and expressed “strong concerns” over the North Korean move, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
North Korea having the ability to launch missiles from submarines would be alarming because such weapons are harder to detect in advance. Some experts say the North is attempting to raise the stakes and ramp up pressure on the United States before their nuclear negotiators meet on Saturday.
“The North is trying to convey a message that time is not on the side of the United States and that it could take a different path if the working-level talks don’t go the way it wanted,” said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. North Korea on Wednesday fired projectiles toward its eastern sea, South Korea’s military said, in an apparent display of its expanding military capabilities ahead of planned nuclear negotiations with the United States this weekend. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
The Joint Chiefs of Staff statement said the weapon fired Tuesday is believed to be a “Pukguksong-class” missile. It refers to a solid-fuel missile that North Korea tested-launched from an underwater test platform in 2016, with the hope that it could eventually be a part of its submarine weaponry.
That missile flew 500 kilometers, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said at the time that his country had gained “perfect nuclear-attack capability.”
North Korea has been trying to obtain the ability to fire ballistic missiles from submarines, though the tests needed for that appear to have been put off while it has been engaged in nuclear diplomacy with the United States since early last year.
When the North’s news agency in July publicized photos of a newly built submarine and said its operational deployment “is near at hand,” some outside experts said it was North Korea’s biggest submarine with several launch tubes for missiles.
An estimated 70 other submarines possessed by North Korea only have launch tubes for torpedoes, not missiles, according to the experts.
Cha said flight data provided by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that it was more likely that the North tested the same type of missile it fired in 2016, instead of a new weapons system.
Japan also confirmed the North Korean missile launch. It earlier said North Korea fired two missiles but later corrected itself and said there had been a single launch and perhaps the missile broke into two parts.
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said the missile fell inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
He called the launch “a serious threat to Japanese national security.” Kono also said the launch without an advance warning was an “extremely problematic and dangerous act” for the safety of vessels and aircraft. Kono declined to say whether it was a submarine-launched missile.
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