SEOUL, South Korea – (AP) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile off its east coast Sunday, South Korean and Japanese officials said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch took place on Sunday morning, but gave no further details. The Japanese Prime Minister’s Office also confirmed the launch.
The launch came three days after North Korea said it had tested a “high-thrust solid fuel engine” for a new strategic weapon that could allow it to have a more mobile, harder-to-detect arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. may reach the continental US.
In recent months, North Korea has tested a barrage of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, including last month its developing longest-range liquid-fueled Hwasong-17 ICBM, which is designed to carry multiple warheads.
Some experts say North Korea will eventually use the expanded arsenal to seek sanctions relief and other concessions from the United States.
The exact status of North Korea’s nuclear strike capability remains secret, as all of its intercontinental ballistic missile tests in recent years have been conducted at a sharp angle to avoid neighboring countries.
Some experts speculate that North Korea already has operational nuclear missiles capable of hitting the entire United States, given the number of years it has spent on its nuclear program. But others say the country is still years away from acquiring such weapons, saying it has yet to prove publicly that it has the technology to protect warheads from the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry.
The United States and South Korea have stepped up their regular military exercises and boosted their joint defense capabilities in the event of North Korea’s nuclear program advancing. North Korea has threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively in a possible conflict with the US and South Korea, and the US military has warned North Korea that using nuclear weapons “will lead to the end of that regime”.
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