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SEOUL/TOKYO, July 12 (Reuters) – North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) off its east coast on Wednesday as the leaders of South Korea and Japan meet on the sidelines of a NATO summit to discuss threats. including the nuclear-armed North.
The launch came after North Korea’s sharp complaints in recent days, accusing US spy planes of violating airspace over North Korea’s economic zones, condemning the recent visit of a US nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine to South Korea and vowing to take countermeasures.
The suspected ICBM flew for 74 minutes at an altitude of 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and a range of 1,000 km, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, the longest flight time ever by a North Korean missile.
Japan’s coast guard predicted the missile would fall 550 km (340 miles) east of the Korean peninsula.
In April, North Korea test-fired its first solid-fuel ICBM, one of about a dozen missile tests this year. Analysts believe the North’s ICBMs can fly long enough to hit targets anywhere in the United States, and the country has developed nuclear warheads that can be mounted on rockets.
« This may be the second test of the solid-fuel Hwasong-18 ICBM, based on the results of its first launch, » said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Yang Uk, a fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the latest test could be part of the North’s attempt to save face and resume efforts after the failed launch of its first spy satellite in May.
Yang said Pyongyang’s allegations this week of U.S. airspace violations, which Washington and Seoul dismissed as baseless, could provide justification for the launch.
Diplomacy in NATO
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said North Korea follows a pattern of conducting weapons tests in time for diplomatic events such as the planned South Korea-Japan talks.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has called for a NATO summit in Lithuania to convene an emergency National Security Council meeting to discuss the launch and vow to use the summit to call for stronger international unity to counter such threats.
In a meeting with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Yun said the North’s launch was a direct challenge to peace and the rules-based order in the region and the world.
« We cannot condone these provocations, and we must respond to North Korea’s reckless actions with strong responses and solidarity from the international community, » Yun said, according to his office.
Japan’s Matsuno said the missile poses a threat to regional and international peace and stability, and Japan has lodged a protest with Beijing through diplomatic channels.
Yun is expected to discuss ways to step up joint responses to North Korean threats in separate talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later on Wednesday.
Wary of North Korea’s military moves and other emerging challenges in the region, Yun has moved to mend relations with Japan and de-escalate historical conflicts that have limited cooperation between the two U.S. allies.
Nuclear diplomats from South Korea, the United States and Japan held a phone call Wednesday to strongly condemn the North’s missile launch as a serious provocation that « can never be justified, » Seoul’s foreign ministry said. They also criticized Pyongyang’s recent threats against what they described as normal air activity by allies in international waters.
Top military generals from the three countries gathered in Hawaii for a rare trilateral meeting shortly before the missile launch.
Reporting by Josh Smith, Choo-Hyang Choi and Hyunsu Yim in the Seoul and Tokyo bureaus; Written by Elaine Lies and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Tom Hogue, Lincoln Feast and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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