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Koreas Test Missiles Hours Apart       09/15 06:17

   

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North and South Korea tested ballistic missiles 
hours apart Wednesday in a display of military might that is sure to exacerbate 
tensions between the rivals at a time when talks aimed at stripping the North 
of its nuclear program are stalled.

   South Korea's presidential office said the country conducted its first 
underwater-launched ballistic missile test. It said the domestically built 
missile flew from a submarine and hit its designated target.

   The statement said the weapon is meant to help South Korea deter external 
threats -- a clear reference to North Korea, which tested two short-range 
ballistic missile earlier in the day. Those launches came two days after the 
North said it fired a newly developed cruise missile, its first weapons test in 
six months.

   Experts say the North Korean launches are an effort to apply pressure on the 
United States in the hopes of winning relief from sanctions aimed at persuading 
the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal. U.S.-led talks on the issue have been 
stalled for more than two years -- and in the meantime, tensions have been 
rising on the Korean peninsula.

   Meanwhile, observers say South Korean President Moon Jae-in's government, 
which has been actively pursuing reconciliation with North Korea, may have 
taken action to appear tougher in response to criticism that it's too soft on 
the North.

   The rival nations are still technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 
Korean War, which pitted the North and ally China against the South and 
U.S.-led U.N. forces, ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

   Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the launches "threaten the peace 
and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous." The U.S. 
Indo-Pacific Command said the move "highlights the destabilizing impact of 
(North Korea's) illicit weapons program" though it said it didn't pose an 
immediate threat to the U.S.

   The South Korean test will likely infuriate the North, which has often 
accused its rival of hypocrisy for introducing modern weapons while calling for 
talks between the divided countries.

   South Korea's military said the North Korean ballistic missiles flew about 
800 kilometers (500 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean 
Peninsula and Japan. The launches represent a violation of U.N. Security 
Council resolutions that bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile 
activity. But the council typically doesn't impose new sanctions when the North 
launches short-range missiles, like Wednesday's.

   Wednesday's tests came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul for 
meetings with Moon and other senior officials to discuss North Korea and other 
issues.

   It's unusual for North Korea to make provocative launches when China, its 
last major ally and biggest aid provider, is engaged in a major diplomatic 
event. But some experts say North Korea may have used the timing to draw extra 
attention.

   Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in 
Seoul, said Wednesday's tests appeared to be of an improved version of a 
short-range missile it tested in March. He said the weapon is likely modeled on 
Russia's Iskander missile, whose flattened-out low altitude flight makes it 
hard to intercept.

   The international community is bent on getting the North to abandon its 
nuclear program and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and 
the promise of economic help to try to influence the North. But nuclear talks 
between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019, when 
then-U.S. President Donald Trump's administration rejected the North's demand 
for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear 
facility.

   North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's government has so far rejected U.S. 
President Joe Biden administration's overtures for dialogue, demanding that 
Washington abandon what it calls "hostile" policies first. But the North has 
maintained its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, 
a sign that it may not want to completely scuttle the possibility of reopening 
the talks.

   In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired the ability to strike the 
American mainland with nuclear weapons after conducting three intercontinental 
ballistic missile tests and its most powerful nuclear test. In recent years, 
it's also performed a series of underwater-launched missile tests in what 
experts say is a worrying development because such weapons are difficult to 
detect in advance and would provide the North with a second, retaliatory strike 
capability.

   South Korea, which doesn't have nuclear weapons, is under the protection of 
the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," which guarantees a devastating American response 
in the event of an attack on its ally. But South Korea has been accelerating 
efforts to build up its conventional arms, including developing more powerful 
missiles.

   Experts say the South's military advancements are aimed at improving its 
capacity for preemptive strikes and destroying key North Korean facilities and 
bunkers.

   Separate from the submarine-launched missile, South Korea also tested a 
missile from an aircraft that is in development.

 
 
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