SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into its eastern waters Thursday as the United States redeployed one of its aircraft carriers near the Korean peninsula in response to Pyongyang’s earlier launch of a powerful missile capable of nuke over Japan. .
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launches were carried out 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region. He said that South Korea has strengthened its surveillance posture and maintains preparation in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also confirmed North Korea’s missile launches, saying the weapons fire is “absolutely intolerable.”
The latest missile launches suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue weapons tests aimed at increasing his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. Many experts say Kim’s goal is to eventually win recognition of the United States as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of those sanctions, though the international community has shown no sign of allowing that to happen.
The launches were North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, drawing condemnation from the United States and other countries.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the two North Korean missiles launched Thursday morning flew 350 to 800 kilometers (217 to 500 miles) at a maximum altitude of 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles) before to land in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
He said initial analysis suggested the second missile was possibly launched on an “irregular” trajectory. It’s a term that has previously been used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon modeled on Russia’s Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of evading missile defenses.
On Tuesday, North Korea staged its most provocative weapons demonstration in years, firing an intermediate-range missile at Japan for the first time in five years. The launch prompted the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and stop trains.
Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
Other previously tested weapons reportedly include Iskander-type missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to attack key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
Thursday’s launches came as the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan returned to waters east of South Korea in what the South Korean military called an attempt to show allies’ “strong will” to counter continued provocations and North Korean threats.
The aircraft carrier was in the area last week as part of exercises between South Korea and the United States and other allied training involving Japan. North Korea views US-led drills near the peninsula as an invasion rehearsal and considers training involving a US aircraft carrier more provocative.
North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday that the Reagan strike group’s redeployment poses “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on and around the Korean peninsula.”
After North Korea’s intermediate-range missile launch, the United States and South Korea also conducted their own live-fire drills that have so far involved surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and precision-guided bombs launched from fighter jets.
But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly caused catastrophe early Wednesday when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile capsized shortly after takeoff and crashed into an air force base in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung. The South Korean military said no one was injured in the accident and civilian facilities were not affected.
After North Korea’s release on Tuesday, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. North Korea’s foreign ministry statement said on Thursday that it strongly condemned US-led efforts at the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against North Korea over its recent missile tests, which it described as a “fair counter” to the joint exercises of the United States and South Korea.
North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests this year amid a long-stalled diplomacy with the United States. US-led efforts to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits collapsed in 2019 over disputes over US sanctions on North Korea.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.