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North Korea launches ICBM after threatening U.S. over alleged spy flights

The North’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, its first since April, came after it accused U.S. spy planes of illegally entering its airspace.
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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile Wednesday, its neighbors said, two days after it threatened the U.S. over what it said were spy plane incursions into its airspace.

The South Korean military confirmed that North Korea had launched a suspected long-range ballistic missile toward the east from the outskirts of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, around 10 a.m. Wednesday (9 p.m. Tuesday ET). It said that surveillance had been strengthened and that it was maintaining military preparedness in close cooperation with the U.S.

Japanese government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said that while details were still being analyzed, the missile was estimated to have flown for 74 minutes before it fell into the Sea of Japan about 155 miles west of Okushiri Island in Hokkaido around 11:13 a.m.

A news broadcast at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday shows file footage of a North Korean missile test.
A TV screen shows a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on July 12, 2023.Ahn Young-joon / AP

The missile, which was launched at a lofted trajectory, was estimated to have traveled 620 miles and reached a maximum altitude of about 3,725 miles. Matsuno said that it landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and that there were no reports of damage in the area.

Nuclear-armed North Korea launched its first ICBMs in 2017 as part of its effort to develop long-range weapons able to reach the continental U.S. It then observed a self-imposed moratorium on such launches until last year, when it resumed testing ICBMs amid stalled talks on denuclearization. North Korea is also thought to be preparing for its seventh nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.

The launch Wednesday was North Korea’s first missile test since June 15 and the first time it has launched an ICBM since April. Both South Korea and Japan condemned it as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which bar North Korea from using ballistic missile technology.

“These acts by North Korea threaten the peace and security not only of our country but also the region, as well as the international community, and it is absolutely unacceptable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in Lithuania, where he is attending a summit of NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance. 

Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is also at the summit, are expected to meet Wednesday as part of efforts to improve relations between their countries, both U.S. allies with close ties to NATO but not formal membership.

Yoon convened an emergency meeting of his National Security Council from Lithuania in response to the launch, his office said.

The launch also came as Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the United States’ top general, was in Hawaii for a rare trilateral meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said this week that a U.S. military spy plane illegally entered North Korea’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times Monday and was chased away by North Korean warplanes. Countries have the right to control marine resources within their exclusive economic zones, which extend 200 nautical miles from their territory, but they do not have sovereignty over the surface of the water or the airspace above it.

Kim warned that a “shocking incident” could occur if the U.S. intrusions continued. The North Korean Defense Ministry also said such flights could be shot down.

The South Korean military said the flight activity by the U.S.-South Korea alliance was normal and rejected North Korea’s claims as “utterly ridiculous.”

The U.S. government also dismissed Kim’s accusations, with State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller urging North Korea to “refrain from escalatory actions” and “engage in serious and sustained diplomacy.”

Defense Department spokesperson Sabrina Singh said the U.S. military always operated responsibly, safely and in accordance with international law.

“Those accusations are just accusations,” she told reporters Monday.

Despite international sanctions, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear weapons and missile programs. In April, it tested its first solid-fuel ICBM, which experts say is harder to detect and counter than missiles that use liquid fuel. It is not clear how close the North is to having functioning nuclear-armed ICBMs able to strike the U.S. mainland.

In May, North Korea also tried and failed to launch what it said was a military spy satellite. The South Korean military, which retrieved wreckage of the crashed satellite, said last week that it appeared to have no military use.

North Korea and South Korea have remained frozen in conflict since the Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty 70 years ago this month.