North Korea launched what Seoul claimed was a ballistic missile on Wednesday, a week after its leader Kim Jong Un vowed to speed up development of its nuclear arsenal.
This new weapons test comes at a time when South Korea and the United States expect Pyongyang to resume its nuclear tests, which were halted in 2017.
The North Korean regime had already, in March, violated a voluntary five-year moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests by firing a powerful missile capable of reaching the United States.
“North Korea launched a ballistic missile at 12:03 pm” (0303 GMT), presumably from Sunan Airport, north of Pyongyang,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Wednesday.
The officials added that the missile traveled 470 km and reached a height of 780 km before falling into the Sea of Japan, describing the launch as a “flagrant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
14 shots since January
Japan’s Defense Minister, Makoto Oniki, confirmed this trajectory and explained that the missile had finished its race “outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”
He stressed that “the repeated firing of ballistic missiles threatens the security and safety of our nation, the region and the international community.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday urged “North Korea to fully abide by its international obligations.” “This firing (…) using ballistic missile technology will only increase regional and international tensions,” said the movement’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
Despite harsh international sanctions, North Korea has intensified its efforts in recent months to modernize its military and has conducted 14 test firings since January.
At a major military parade on April 25, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to “strengthen and develop our nation’s nuclear capabilities at an accelerated pace.”
“Nuclear weapons, the symbol of our national strength and at the heart of our military power, must be enhanced in terms of quality and range,” he said.
A few days later, he described the nuclear weapon as a “lifeline that ensures the security of our country,” and threatened to use it as a “precautionary measure.”
Numerous diplomatic talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up the atomic bomb have faltered since the failed 2019 meeting between Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump.
“There is a good chance that they (Wednesday) will test a missile that can be equipped with a nuclear warhead,” Ahn Chan-il, a researcher specializing in North Korean affairs, told AFP.
The new launch also comes less than a week before the inauguration of new South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol, a conservative who has promised to be tougher with his northern neighbor.
During his election campaign, Mr. Yoon demanded that the United States bolster South Korea’s anti-missile defenses, and even deploy tactical nuclear weapons there.
US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit South Korea at the end of May.
Washington is ‘very concerned’
On Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman said he was “deeply concerned about these tests and the provocative nature of the ballistic missile program.” John Kirby said the United States had invited Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table “without preconditions” while working “to prepare for our alliance” with Seoul and Tokyo.
Asked on Tuesday whether she would vote in May on a US draft resolution increasing international sanctions against Pyongyang, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield replied that the US intended to “move forward” this month on it.
And put on the Security Council table in April, the text obtained by AFP, plans to cut the amount of crude oil North Korea will be allowed to import each year for civilians from four million to two million barrels, and impose restrictions on more North Korean exports, including mineral fuels. and watches.
According to diplomats, China and Russia, which hold veto power in the council, have so far refused to discuss the content of the draft. One of those diplomats said that no date had been set for the vote.
Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unity said the new missile test “may be a warning sign” for Yoon, saying that Pyongyang will never accept the main condition set by the new South Korean leader for the resumption of peace talks, which is concession. of nuclear weapons.
“It could also be a signal from Pyongyang that it has no choice but to strengthen its arsenal if Seoul and Washington decide to deploy strategic weapons in the south,” the expert added.
According to Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korean specialist at the Sejong Institute, North Korea will “try to test as many missiles as possible” in order to “rapidly improve the capabilities of its arsenal.”