Tensions revived as North Korea fires new ballistic missile into sea

North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea on Tuesday in a continuation of its recent weapons tests hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected one ballistic missile launched from an area around its eastern port of Sinpo and that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the launch.

But Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said his country’s initial analysis suggested that the North fired two ballistic missiles. Japan’s coast guard issued a maritime safety advisory to ships but didn’t immediately know where the missiles landed.

The shipyard in Sinpo is a major defense industry hub where North Korea focuses its submarine production and the country has also used those facilities in recent years to develop ballistic weapons systems designed to be fired from submarines.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries didn’t immediately say what kind of ballistic missile the North fired.

A test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which would be North Korea’s first since 2019, would be the country’s most significant military demonstration since President Joe Biden took office and underscore how it continues to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities amid a pause in diplomacy. The North had rolled out at least two new SLBMs during military parades in 2020 and 2021.

South Korean officials held a national security council meeting and expressed “deep regret” over the launch that came amid efforts to revive diplomacy. A strong South Korean response could anger North Korea, which has been accusing Seoul of hypocrisy for criticizing the North’s weapons tests while expanding its own conventional military capabilities.

Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo has lodged a “strong protest” to North Korea through “usual channels,” meaning their embassies in Beijing. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties.

Ending a monthslong lull in September, North Korea has been ramping up its weapons tests while making conditional peace offers to Seoul, reviving a pattern of pressuring South Korea to try to get what it wants from the United States.

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than two years over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s denuclearization steps.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to strengthen his nuclear deterrent and his government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offers to restart dialogue without preconditions, saying that Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy,” a term the North mainly uses to refer to sanctions and U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

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