© Reuters. People watch TV broadcast a video of a report on a North Korea firing a ballistic missile from its east coast, in Seoul, South Korea, on January 5, 2022. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji
Authors Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired a suspicious ballistic missile on its east coast on Wednesday, just hours before South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a railroad he hopes will eventually unite divided Korea. peninsula.
The first launch in October underlined leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s vow to strengthen the military in the fight against the unstable international situation amid stalled talks with South Korea and the United States.
The missile is believed to have been fired at around 8:10 a.m. (11:10 p.m. GMT) from an inland location over the east coast and into the sea, the South Korean Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) said.
Hours later, Moon visited the South Korean city of Goseong on the east coast near the border with the north, where he paved the way for a new railway line he called a “stepping stone to peace and regional balance” on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking at the ceremony, Moon acknowledged that the launch had raised concerns about tensions and damage to inter-Korean relations, and called on North Korea to make sincere efforts for dialogue.
“We should not give up hope for dialogue in order to substantially overcome this situation,” he said. “If both Koreas work together and build trust, peace would one day be achieved.”
The apparent launch of the missile by the nuclear-armed North highlighted the challenges Moon faces in his quest for a diplomatic breakthrough before his five-year term expires in May.
Reconnecting the two Koreas by rail was a central part of the 2018 Kim-Moon meetings, but those efforts failed as negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons in exchange for easing international sanctions faltered in 2019.
Kim’s New Year’s speech did not mention South Korea’s efforts to restart stalled talks or offers from the United States to talk, although analysts note that this does not mean that he closed the door to diplomacy.
South Korea’s National Security Council convened an emergency meeting, expressing concern that the launch “came at a time when internal and external stability is extremely important” and urging North Korea to return to negotiations.
The Japanese Minister of Defense said that the suspicious ballistic missile flew about 500 km (310 miles).
“Since last year, North Korea has launched rockets several times, which is very unfortunate,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
United Nations Security Council resolutions ban all North Korean ballistic missiles and nuclear tests and have imposed sanctions over the program.
In the state media summaries of the speech that Kim gave on the eve of the New Year, the North Korean leader did not specifically mention missiles or nuclear weapons, but said that the national defense must be strengthened.
North Korean troops have been conducting winter exercises for several weeks, South Korean military officials said.
“Our military is maintaining a state of readiness in preparation for a possible additional launch, while closely monitoring the situation in close cooperation with the United States,” the JCS said in a statement. Recent North Korean missile tests have often involved double or multiple launches.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has become even more isolated, imposing border measures that have slowed trade to a leak and stifled all diplomatic engagement in the face.
It also adhered to a self-imposed moratorium on testing its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or nuclear weapons. The last tests of the ICBM or nuclear bomb were in 2017, before Kim met with then-US President Donald Trump.
However, Pyongyang has continued to test a variety of new short-range ballistic missiles, including one launched from a submarine in October, arguing that it should not be punished for developing weapons used by other countries.
“While reading from North Korea’s recent plenary meetings could have given priority to rural development for next year, that doesn’t mean the country will stop its ballistic missile tests,” said Michelle Kae, deputy director of 38 North, North Korea’s monitoring program. at Stimson Center in Washington.
In a report last month, the U.S. Government’s Congressional Research Service concluded that North Korea continues to improve its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite United Nations Security Council sanctions and diplomatic efforts.
“Recent ballistic missile tests and military parades indicate that North Korea continues to build nuclear combat capabilities designed to evade regional ballistic missile defense,” the report said.
Just hours after the North Korean launch, Japan announced that its foreign and defense ministers would talk to their U.S. counterparts on Friday to discuss security issues.
The White House, the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday’s launch.
At a regular press briefing Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated the U.S. desire for dialogue with North Korea, saying Washington has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and is ready to meet without preconditions.