Second North Korea missile launch in a week prompts ground halt of air traffic in western U.S.

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Seoul, South Korea (AP) – North Korea on Tuesday launched a ballistic missile into its eastern seas, its second launch in a week, in defiance of international opposition by leader Kim Jong Un of his nuclear-weapons program. After the call to expand. ,

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The launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that underscore how North Korea continues to expand its military capabilities during a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and stalemate nuclear talks with the United States. is kept.

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South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired a ballistic missile from an area in the northern province of Jagang. It said the weapon flew 700 kilometers, or 434 miles, at a maximum speed of about Mach 10 before landing in the waters off its east coast, demonstrating a more advanced capability than North Korea’s launch last week.

The North’s state media described the earlier launch as a successful test of a hypersonic missile, a type of weapon it claimed to have first tested in September.

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South Korean officials did not provide a specific assessment of the missile type, but some experts said North Korea may have re-tested its alleged hypersonic missile in response to the South Korean military curtailing its previous test.

Japan’s defense ministry said the suspected ballistic missile landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were checking the safety of ships and aircraft around Japan, but there were no immediate reports of disruption or damage. “It is extremely regrettable that North Korea continues to fire missiles” when the United Nations Security Council discussed its response to the North’s first launch, Kishida said.

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The Security Council discussed last week’s launch in-camera on Monday, but took no action. Ahead of the talks, the US and five allies issued a statement urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

South Korea’s presidential office said Tuesday’s launch was discussed at an emergency National Security Council meeting, whose members have urged North Korea to return to talks. President Moon Jae-in expressed concern that Pyongyang was dialing up its testing activity ahead of the south’s presidential elections in March.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch “does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or the region, or to our allies.”

Nevertheless, the launch was in line with an order issued to ground some flights on the US West Coast.

San Diego International Airport spokeswoman Sabrina Lopicolo told The Associated Press it halted flights for seven minutes at a “national ground stop” at 2:30 p.m. local time, just minutes after launch. It sent further questions to the Federal Aviation Administration, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Air-traffic controllers in other West Coast regions similarly ordered the plane down, according to recordings shared online. According to a recording from the website LiveATC.net, a San Francisco air traffic controller ordered flights to avoid its airspace and not take off or land around the time without being told.

“Things are changing very quickly,” the air traffic controller said in the recording, later adding: “I just heard something about all planes ground-stopping, so I don’t know anything, Just stop there.”

From the archives (December 2021): North Korea held an important meeting on the completion of 10 years in power of Kim Jong Un

An air-traffic controller at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport similarly told aircraft in the area that they had received an order to “ground stop, all aircraft, all airports”. According to another recording, air traffic controllers at Los Angeles International Airport also admitted to receiving an order to halt departure without any explanation.

Six days after the launch, North Korea fired a missile at sea in what it described as a successful test of a hypersonic missile.

Seoul’s defense ministry said after the test that North Korea had exaggerated its capabilities and tested a conventional ballistic missile that South Korea was capable of intercepting. The ministry said it suspected North Korea had acquired the technology needed for a hypersonic weapon.

Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said South Korea’s assessment of last week’s launch would have “angered” the North’s leadership and may have planned multiple tests to make its threat credible. .

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds greater than Mach 5 or more than five times the speed of sound, can pose a significant challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Such weapons were on the wish-list of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled last year with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

Experts say North Korea is years away from achieving a reliable hypersonic system.

North Korea’s previous test on January 5 came days after Kim vowed during a key political conference to bolster its military forces, even as the nation grapples with difficulties related to the pandemic. , which has further strained its economy, crippled by US-led sanctions on its nuclear. Program.

The setbacks have left Kim with little to show for his diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which derailed after their second meeting in 2019 when the Americans demanded North Korea’s partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities. Rejected the demand for relief from major sanctions.

The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a sweeping shift from countering terrorism in the US and so-called rogue states such as North Korea and Iran to a near-fellow adversary in China, has said that it is not going anywhere with North Korea. And the conversation is ready to start again. at any time” without preconditions.

But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of ​​open-ended talks, saying the US should first withdraw its “hostile policy”, a term that the North has mainly used to deal with sanctions and joint US-South Korea military exercises. uses to describe.

Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Iwa University in Seoul said, “Even with North Korea’s pandemic restricting trade and diplomacy, Pyongyang may be driving an arms race against Seoul and Washington to Russia and China.” determined to refuse to focus.”

Capital Report (March 2019): Trump’s reversal of North Korea sanctions is ‘a scam’, says former Treasury official

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