North Korea Continues War Drills, Launches Most Powerful Missile in Years

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North Korea ramped up its recent bevy of weapons tests on Sunday, firing what analysts say is the most powerful missile the isolated regime has tested in five years.

Pyongyang’s seventh launch of January 2022 traveled 1,242 miles up and landed in the ocean about 500 miles away, said officials with the Japanese and South Korean governments. No damage or injuries were reported.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told Yonhap that it detected the missile, which was fired at a steep angle from Jagang province, at around 7:52 a.m. local time. The military body also confirmed the distance and height the projectile flew, while adding that the missile hit a top speed of Mach 16, or 16 times the speed of sound.

“Our military is tracking and monitoring related North Korean movements and maintaining a readiness posture,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated that Pyongyang may have broken North Korea’s 2018 pledge to stop testing long-range missiles and nuclear devices.

Arguing that Sunday’s test violated the United Nations Security Council resolutions, Moon asserted the move is a “challenge toward the international society’s efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, stabilize peace and find a diplomatic solution” to the nuclear impasse between North Korea and the rest of the world.

The regime of Kim Jong Un “should stop its actions that create tensions and pressure and respond to the dialogue offers by the international community including South Korea and the United States,” Moon continued

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command condemned the launch and said that “we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory or that of our allies,” and “we will continue to monitor the situation.”

Sunday’s test was North Korea’s seventh round of launches this month. The unusual frequency of tests indicates its intent to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled nuclear negotiations as pandemic-related difficulties put further stress on an economy broken by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi also told reporters that the missile was the longest-range the North has tested since its Hwasong-15 ICBM in November 2017.

Kim last year announced a new five-year plan for developing weapons and issued an ambitious wish list that included hypersonic weapons, spy satellites, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

State media said Friday that Kim visited an unspecified munitions factory producing a “major weapons system,” and that the workers pledged loyalty to their leader who “smashes with his bold pluck the challenges of U.S. imperialists and their vassal forces.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By Jack Phillips

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