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North Korea fires ballistic missiles amid nuclear talks?

According to the South's military, the nuclear-armed North had fired "two unidentified ballistic missiles" from its central inland area into the sea off its east coast. The North's weapons programs have made rapid progress under Kim, but it has not carried out a nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017. However, that may be changing soon as North Korea launches missiles for test runs.

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North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, according to the South’s military, as China’s foreign minister visited Seoul and days after Pyongyang said it had successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles.

Beijing is the North’s key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid, although Pyongyang is under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

The nuclear-armed North had fired “two unidentified ballistic missiles” from its central inland area into the sea off its east coast, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

“South Korean and US intelligence agencies are conducting detailed analysis,” they added, without immediately giving details of the missiles’ range.

Read more: North Korea’s anniversary parade flaunts machines instead of missiles

The launch came as Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart.

Beijing is the North’s key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid, although Pyongyang is under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking before the news emerged, Wang hoped that all countries would help “peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”, the Yonhap news agency reported.

“For example, not only the North but also other countries are engaging in military activities,” he added.

“Having said this, we all have to work together toward the resumption of dialogue.”

Read more: North Korea reboots nuclear reactor: UN agency

North Korea tests its nuclear arsenal

Wednesday’s launches came days after the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that it had test-fired a new “long-range cruise missile” over the weekend, calling it a “strategic weapon of great significance”.

Pictures in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday showed a missile exiting one of five tubes on a launch vehicle in a ball of flame and a missile in horizontal flight.

Such a weapon would represent a marked advance in North Korea’s weapons technology, analysts said, better able to avoid defense systems to deliver a warhead across the South or Japan — both of them US allies.

The missiles fired at the weekend traveled 1,500-kilometres (about 930 miles), on two-hour flight paths — including figure-of-eight patterns — above North Korea and its territorial waters to hit their targets, according to KCNA.

North Korea is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion.

But Pyongyang is not banned from developing cruise missiles, which it has tested previously.

Read more: North Korea may resume nuclear tests this year: US intelligence

The US, Japanese, and South Korean envoys on the North met in Tokyo earlier this week when Washington’s representative Sung Kim re-iterated: “We hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.

The US was willing to “address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearisation”, in keeping with international standards for access and monitoring, he added.

Nuclear talks with the United States have been stalled since the collapse of a 2019 summit in Hanoi between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-president Donald Trump over sanctions relief — and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

The North’s weapons programs have made rapid progress under Kim, but it has not carried out a nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017.

Read more: North Korea launch was new ‘tactical guided projectile’: Pyongyang

Courtesy: AFP

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