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 kilometres (280 miles) at a maximum altitude of 910 kilometres (565 miles) 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 analysing details of the launch, it said.
Japan lodged an immediate protest against North Korea, saying the missile landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. If confirmed, it would be the first North Korean missile that has landed that close to Japan since November 2017.
The US State Department said it calls on North Korea “to refrain from provocations, abide by their obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations to do their part to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and achieve denuclearisation”.
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.
Missiles launched from submarines are harder to detect in advance. Some experts say North Korea 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.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff statement said the weapon fired on Tuesday is believed to be a “Pukguksong-class” missile. It refers to a solid-fuel missile that North Korea tested-launched from an underwater platform in 2016 with the hope that it could eventually be a part of its submarine weaponry. That missile flew 500 kilometres (310 miles), 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 develop 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 North Korea’s news agency in July publicised photos of a newly built submarine and said its operational deployment “is near at hand,” some outside experts said it was the North’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.—.AP