South Korea, U.S. fire missiles to protest ‘reckless’ North Korean test

SEOUL, Oct 5 (Reuters) – South Korea and the US military conducted rare missile exercises and an American supercarrier was repositioned east of North Korea after Pyongyang flew a missile over Japan, one of the harshest allied responses to a North Korean one since 2017 weapon test .

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that nuclear-armed North Korea risks further condemnation and isolation if it continues its “provocations”.

North Korea on Tuesday fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) farther than ever, shooting it down over Japan for the first time in five years and warning residents there to take cover.

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Washington called the test “dangerous and ruthless,” and the US military and its allies have stepped up the show of force.

South Korean and American troops fired a volley of missiles into the sea in response, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said on Wednesday, and the allies earlier conducted a fighter jet bombing exercise in the Yellow Sea.

The aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, a US Navy ship that made its first stop in South Korea last month for the first time in years, will also return to the seas between Korea and Japan with its battle group of other warships. The South Korean military called it a “highly unusual” move, designed to show allies’ determination to respond to any threats from North Korea.

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Visiting Chile, Blinken said the United States, South Korea and Japan are working closely “to demonstrate and strengthen our defense and deterrence capabilities in the face of the North Korean threat.”

He reiterated a US call for Pyongyang to return to dialogue, adding: “If they continue on this path, it will only increase condemnation, increase isolation and increase steps taken in response to their actions.”

The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss North Korea at the request of the United States, although China and Russia have told colleagues on the council they oppose an open meeting of the 15-member body. They argued the council’s response should help ease the situation on the Korean peninsula, diplomats said.

Top US diplomat for East Asia Daniel Kritenbrink this week accused China and Russia of emboldening North Korea by improperly enforcing sanctions. He said a resumption of nuclear weapons testing by North Korea for the first time since 2017 is likely just awaiting a political decision.

South Korean officials said North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test and could use a smaller weapon for operational use or a large device with a higher yield than previous tests.

SOUTH KOREAN MISSILE FAILURE

The South Korean military confirmed that one of its Hyunmoo-2C missiles failed shortly after launch and crashed during the exercise, but that no one was injured.

Footage shared on social media by a nearby resident and verified by Reuters showed smoke and flames billowing from the military base.

The South Korean military said the fire was caused by burning rocket fuel and, although the rocket carried a warhead, it did not detonate. It apologized that local residents had been concerned.

It’s not uncommon for military hardware to fail, and North Korea has also suffered multiple failed missile launches this year. However, South Korea’s failure threatened to overshadow Seoul’s efforts to demonstrate military prowess in the face of North Korea’s increasing capabilities.

The Hyunmoo-2C is one of South Korea’s newest missiles, and analysts say its ability as an accurate “bunker buster” makes it a key element of Seoul’s plans to strike the north in the event of a conflict.

In its initial announcement of the exercise, the South Korean military made no mention of Hyunmoo-2C’s launch or its failure, but subsequent media briefings have been dominated by questions about the incident.

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President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has made such military displays of might a cornerstone of his strategy against North Korea, had promised that Japan’s overflight would draw a decisive response from his country, its allies and the international community.

US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned North Korea’s test “in the strongest terms”, while the European Union called it a “reckless and deliberately provocative action”. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the launch, saying it violated Security Council resolutions.

It was the first North Korean missile to follow a trajectory over Japan since 2017, and its estimated flight of 4,600 km (2,850 miles) was the longest for a North Korean test, which is usually “flown” into space to avoid an overflight neighboring countries.

Analysts and security officials said it could have been a variant of the Hwasong-12 IRBM unveiled by North Korea in 2017 as part of a plan to attack US military bases in Guam.

Neither the North Korean government nor state media have reported on the launch.

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Reporting by Joori Roh in Seoul, Humeyra Pamuk in Santiago and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Edited by Chris Reese, Sandra Maler, Gerry Doyle and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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