North Korea launches suspected ballistic missiles into sea

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South Korea, Japan and US confirm Thursday morning launch with Japanese saying at least two banned ballistic missiles were fired.

North Korea has fired at least two projectiles – suspected of being banned ballistic missiles – into the sea off its eastern coast in a launch confirmed by the South’s military, Japan and the United States.

North Korea is banned from developing ballistic missiles under United Nations Security Council Resolutions and if the launch which happened early on Thursday is confirmed it would represent a new challenge to US President Joe Biden’s efforts to engage with Pyongyang.

Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff (JCS) said in a statement that the “unidentified projectile” was launched into the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea.

The JCS did not provide any further details of the type of device or the number of projectiles that were fired.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the projectiles were two ballistic missiles, which fell outside the Japanese exclusive economic zone.

Suga said he would “thoroughly discuss” the issue of North Korea, including the launches, when he visits Washington, DC next month.

Prior to Suga’s remarks, the Japanese coastguard warned ships against coming close to any fallen objects, advising them to provide information on any debris discovered to the authorities.

Pyongyang has made rapid progress in its capabilities under leader Kim Jong Un, testing missiles capable of reaching the entire continental US as tensions mounted in 2017.

Thursday’s launch follows reports that Pyongyang tested two short-range missiles – suspected to be cruise missiles – over the weekend after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrapped up their first visit to Northeast Asia.

The Biden administration, which is reviewing its US policy on North Korea, played down those tests, saying it remained open to negotiations with Pyongyang.

US officials confirmed to the Reuters news agency that Thursday morning’s test had taken place but did not offer details.

If the launch is confirmed to be a ballistic missile it will be the first since Biden took office in January.

The US and South Korea are analysing the data of the launch for additional information, the JCS said in a statement, with the presidential Blue House convening an emergency meeting of the national security council to discuss the launches.

The US administration’s North Korea policy review is in its “final stages” and the national security advisers of Japan and South Korea are expected in the US next week to discuss it, senior US officials said on Wednesday.

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