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North Korea continues missile barrage with ICBM test

Pyongyang fired six more missiles, one of which set off an alert in Japan, a day after it set a record for the most launches in a 24-hour period.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired at least six more missiles Thursday, including an intercontinental ballistic missile, the South Korean and Japanese governments said, continuing to raise tensions a day after it launched a record of at least 23 missiles in a 24-hour period.

Concerns that one of the missiles, apparently the ICBM, might fly over Japan prompted the government to activate its early warning system, urging residents in the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata to take cover inside or underground. Officials later said that the missile did not fly over Japan and that it “disappeared” over the water.

North Korea’s weapons tests are seen as an effort by leader Kim Jong Un to develop his regime’s nuclear arsenal, pressure the United States to ease crippling sanctions and gain international acceptance as a nuclear state. The country has escalated its tests and fiery rhetoric as the United States and South Korea conduct large-scale joint military exercises, which they said Thursday they would extend in response to North Korea’s provocations.

North Korea last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in March, its first such test since 2017. U.S. and South Korean officials say the country is also preparing for its seventh nuclear test, which would also be the first since 2017.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, issued a statement saying Washington strongly condemns North Korea’s ICBM test and that President Joe Biden and his national security team are assessing the situation in close coordination with allies and partners.

“This launch, in addition to the launch of multiple other ballistic missiles this week, is a flagrant violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” she said.

Watson said the U.S. will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of America and its allies.

The intercontinental ballistic missile was fired toward the sea at 7:40 a.m. (6:40 p.m. Wednesday ET) from the Sunan area in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The missile reached an altitude of 1,193 miles and flew 472 miles, it said. It was not immediately clear whether the launch was successful.

An hour later, North Korea fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea from the Gaechon area of South Pyongan province. 

After 9:30 p.m., North Korea fired three more short-range missiles, the South Korean military said. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said all three were believed to have reached a maximum altitude of 93 miles and flown 310 miles, landing outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Around 11:30 p.m., the South Korean military said, North Korea fired about 80 rounds of artillery shells that landed in a maritime buffer zone, in violation of a 2018 agreement.

The U.S. and South Korea have conducted joint drills for years without a military reaction from the North. But Kim had warned of a “powerful” response to this year’s expanded drills, which returned for the first time after being scaled down or suspended during the Trump administration.

Early last month, North Korea sent an intermediate-range ballistic missile soaring over Japan in its longest-ever weapons test. The nuclear-capable missile has the range to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

The U.S. and its allies, including South Korea’s conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, have also stepped up their warnings to North Korea. At a meeting in Washington on Thursday, the U.S. and South Korea agreed to seek new measures to demonstrate the alliance’s “determination and capabilities.”

In the event of a nuclear attack by North Korea, the “overwhelming and decisive response” by the alliance would result in the end of Kim’s regime, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said after the meeting at a news conference with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III.

They also said they were extending the “Vigilant Storm” combined aerial drills taking place on the Korean Peninsula, which had been set to end Friday. The drills involve more than 200 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets.

The late-night missile launches and artillery shelling from North Korea on Thursday appeared to be a response to the drills’ extension, which a North Korean official called “a very dangerous and false choice.”

The U.S. and South Korea “will get to know what an irrevocable and awful mistake they made,” Pak Jong Chon, a senior official in the ruling Workers’ Party, said in a statement released through state media. 

Tensions had already risen Wednesday when South Korea responded to North Korea’s barrage by firing three air-to-surface missiles of its own. The two countries’ missiles landed in international waters across their disputed sea border but not on their actual territories.

South Korea is in a national mourning period after the Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed 156 people. Yoon and other South Korean officials have been criticized over the police failure to prevent the tragedy.

In addition to improving its military capabilities, the missile tests also serve North Korea’s political purposes, said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“From Pyongyang’s perspective, the Yoon administration’s unpopularity appears as an opportunity to coerce the South Korean public into opposing security cooperation with Washington,” he said by email. “Meanwhile, firing over Japan can be interpreted as a threat not to be involved with the security of the Korean Peninsula.”