SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Sunday, the latest in its barrage of weapons tests in recent days, after the North warned against the U.S. redeployment of an aircraft carrier for a new round of drills with South Korean warships.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it detected the two missiles launched between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m. on Sunday from the North’s eastern coastal city of Munchon.
It said South Korea’s military has boosted its surveillance posture and maintains a readiness in close coordination with the United States.
The Japanese government also said North Korea fired what was possible ballistic missiles.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to do their utmost to gather and analyze information about the suspected launches and inform the public of any accurate information quickly, while ensuring the safety of aircraft and ships around Japan and preparing for any contingencies, according to his office.
The Japanese coast guard said it has warned ships around the country’s coasts about falling objects and urged them to stay away.
The launch, the North’s seventh round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea wrapped a new round of naval drills off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.
The drills involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group, which returned to the area after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan last week to protest the carrier group’s previous training with South Korea.
On Saturday, North Korea’s Defense Ministry warned that the Regan’s redeployment was causing a “considerably huge negative splash” in regional security. The North’s Defense Ministry said called its recent missile tests a “righteous reaction” to intimidating military drills between its rivals.
North Korea regards U.S.-South Korean military exercises as an invasion rehearsal and is especially sensitive if such drills involve U.S. strategic assets like an aircraft carrier. North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue a nuclear weapons program to cope with U.S. nuclear threats. U.S. and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intentions of attacking the North.
North Korea’s latest launches added to its record-breaking pace of weapons tests this year. The recent weapons tests included a nuclear-capable missile that flew over Japan for the first time in five years and demonstrated a range to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that place the U.S. mainland and its allies South Korea and Japan within striking distance.
North Korea’s testing spree indicates its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the U.S. and wants to focus on expanding his weapons arsenal. But some experts say Kim would eventually aim to use his advanced nuclear program to wrest greater outside concessions, such as the recognition of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim thinks is essential in getting crippling U.N. sanctions on his country lifted.
South Korean officials recently said North Korea was also prepared to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile while maintaining readiness to perform its first underground nuclear test since 2017.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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