North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US-South Korea drills

North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile on Thursday, Seoul’s military said, in Pyongyang’s latest show of force just days before major joint military drills by South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang’s KCNA news outlet said hours later that leader Kim Jong Un was on the ground to witness “a powerful volley” by an artillery unit “ready to respond to real combat”.

The report did not specify what weapons Kim saw in the “fire assault drill” simulating the destruction of an enemy air base.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their worst points in decades, with the nuclear-armed North testing ever more provocative banned weapons as Seoul moved to step up security cooperation with Washington in response.

Read also: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un will ‘probably’ conduct new nuclear test: US

Last year, Kim’s regime declared North Korea an “irreversible” nuclear power and vowed to rapidly ramp up weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons, as the US moved more assets to the region to defend ally Seoul. wants to do

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it “detected the launch of a short-range ballistic missile from the north-western port city of Nampo at 6:20 pm (0920 GMT)”.

It said it was “analyzing the possibility that North Korea fired multiple short-range ballistic missiles simultaneously from the same area”.

It added, “Our military is fully prepared, cooperating closely with the US, as we strengthen surveillance and vigilance.”

North Korea has long claimed that its nuclear weapons and missile programs are for self-defense, and has described US-South Korea military exercises as rehearsals for invasion.

Earlier this week, North Korea accused the US of “deliberately” raising tensions, and Kim’s powerful sister warned that if the US were to disrupt one of Pyongyang’s missile tests, it would be “a war”. be seen as a clear declaration of

After talks between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump failed in 2019, diplomacy has stalled and the North has doubled down on military development.

South Korea’s aggressive President Yoon Suk Yeol has moved to boost diplomatic ties and security cooperation with Tokyo and Washington in response to growing threats from Pyongyang.

His office said US President Joe Biden would host a state visit to Yoon on April 26 and the South Korean leader would also visit Tokyo next week.

This month, the US and South Korean armies will hold their largest joint exercise in five years.

Ahead of those exercises, which have been codenamed “Freedom Shield” and are scheduled for at least 10 days through March 13, the allies conducted aerial exercises this week featuring nuclear-capable US B-52 heavy bombers.

“This is probably the start of a series of provocative tests by North Korea,” said Professor Leif-Erik Eisley of Iwa University in Seoul.

Read also: South Korea’s agency reveals details about Kim Jong Un’s daughter: ‘She is good…’

“Pyongyang is prepared to respond aggressively to major US-South Korea defense exercises as well as President Yoon’s upcoming summit (with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden),” he said.

“The Kim regime may order long-range missile fires, attempt a spy satellite launch, demonstrate a solid-fuel engine, and perhaps even conduct a nuclear test.”

North Korea has modeled its missile tests and military exercises after the US-South Korea drills as an appropriate countermeasure.

Last week, it urged the United Nations to halt these exercises, and reiterated that its nuclear weapons ensure the balance of power in the region.

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