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SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles on Saturday, its neighbors said, in the fourth round this week of weapons fire that drew swift and strong condemnation from rivals.
In an unusually strong rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons is aggravating the suffering of its own people, and warned of an “overwhelming response” from the South Korean and US military. these weapons are used.
“North Korea has not given up its obsession with nuclear weapons and missiles despite persistent international objection over the past 30 years,” Yoon told an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the headquarters. South Korea’s central military. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of the North Korean people into further suffering.”
“If North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, it will face a resolute and overwhelming response from the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” Yoon said.
Yoon’s comments could enrage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who claimed in July that Yoon’s government was run by “confrontational maniacs” and “gangsters”. Kim also rebuffed Yoon’s massive offers of aid in exchange for denuclearization.
The North’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent naval exercises between South Korea and the United States and their other training involving Japan. North Korea sees these military drills by allies as a rehearsal for an invasion and argues that they reveal US and South Korean “double standards” because they label the North’s weapons tests a provocation.
On Saturday, the South Korean, Japanese and US military said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the takeoffs took place from the North Korean capital region.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles traveled about 350 to 400 kilometers (220 to 250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30 to 50 kilometers (20 to 30 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s deputy defense minister, said the missiles showed an “irregular” trajectory.
Some observers say the reported low and “irregular” trajectory of the weapons suggests they were likely nuclear-capable and highly maneuverable missiles modeled after the Russian Iskander missile. They say North Korea developed the Iskander-type weapon to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and hit key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
The other five ballistic missiles fired by North Korea three times this week show trajectories similar to those detected on Saturday.
“The repeated firing of ballistic missiles by North Korea is a serious provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in the international community,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. communicated.
Ino called the launches “absolutely unacceptable”, adding that four rounds of missile tests by North Korea in one week are “unprecedented”.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlighted the “destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
On Friday, South Korea, the United States and Japan held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. Earlier this week, South Korean and US warships conducted bilateral exercises in the region for four days. Both military exercises this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
North Korea’s missile tests this week also capped US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea on Thursday, where she reaffirmed the US’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its allies. Asians.
Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North passed a new law last month allowing the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalating nuclear doctrine.
During his speech on Saturday, Yoon said North Korea’s law threatens South Korea’s national existence and that Seoul will expand military exercises with Washington and strengthen South Korea’s missile strike and surveillance capabilities. South in response.
South Korean officials have generally avoided harsh rhetoric about North Korea to prevent an escalation in animosities. But Yoon’s defense ministry recently warned that North Korea would self-destruct if it used its nuclear weapons.
North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests this year in what experts call a bid to expand its arsenal of weapons amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. South Korean and US officials said North Korea had also completed preparations to carry out a nuclear test, which would be the seventh of its kind and the first in five years.
Experts say Kim Jong Un ultimately wants to use the expanded nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and others accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state, a recognition he sees as necessary to secure the lifting of sanctions international and other concessions.
Several United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices. The country’s missile launches this year are seen as exploiting a split in the UN Council over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US-China contests.
“North Korea’s frequent short-range missile tests could strain the resources of this isolated state. But due to the impasse in the UN Security Council, they are a cheap way for the Kim regime to signal its displeasure with Washington and Seoul’s defense drills while playing domestic politics to counter a external threat,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

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