Hours After Agreeing to Resume Talks, North Korea Launches Missile
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Hours After Agreeing to Resume Talks, North Korea Launches Missile

North Korea launched at least one ballistic missile toward waters near Japan early Wednesday, just hours after announcing it had agreed to resume long-stalled talks with the United States over its nuclear weapons program. The missile was launched from waters near Wonsan, a city east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the South Korean military said in a statement. It said that the missile, a version of the North’s Pukguksong ballistic missile, flew 280 miles to the east while reaching a height of 565 miles. It was unclear whether the missile that launched on Wednesday was fired from a submarine, a ship, or a platform on or under the water. The North’s solid-fuel Pukguksong can be launched from either land or a submarine, although the office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said this projectile could have been the submarine-launched version. North Korea last successfully launched its Pukguksong-1 in August 2016 after several test failures, but there have been indications since then that it was developing a more powerful version. In May 2017, it launched a land-based Pukguksong-2 missile.   Along with its intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile programs pose one of the biggest military threats to the United States and its regional allies because they can extend the range of the North’s nuclear missiles. Submarine-launched missiles are also harder to detect in advance. In July, the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, inspected a newly built submarine that South Korean officials said had three missile-launch tubes, compared with its older Sinpo-class submarine that could fire only one missile. Japan said North Korea had launched a ballistic missile that flew far enough to fall in its exclusive economic zone. Wednesday’s test was the first time a North Korean missile had landed in Japanese waters in nearly two years, evoking memories of a period when the Japanese public was awakened to alarms warning of potential missile landings. The launch also comes as Japan and South Korea are increasingly at odds, and as the South plans to withdraw from a military intelligence sharing pact with Japan. It was the ninth time North Korea had tested ballistic missiles or other projectiles since late July, and was its first weapons test since Sept. 10, when it fired what it called two super-large caliber rockets. After the last weapons test, Mr. Kim indicated that his country would conduct more tests of the same system.   In Tokyo, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said that what was initially thought to be two missiles was actually one that split into two. One of those pieces fell inside Japan’s economic zone off its Shimane prefecture. Japan said it had no immediate reports of damage to aircraft or ships nearby. In a series of weapons tests this year, North Korea launched new types of short-range ballistic missiles and more powerful versions of multi-tube rocket launchers. Its new weapons have alarmed South Korea and Japan because they have longer ranges and are believed to be more difficult to intercept by missile defense systems. North Korea’s latest test came a day after the South commemorated Armed Forces Day, during which it displayed newly acquired F-35 stealth jets. By showcasing the state-of-the-art combat aircraft, South Korea reinforced its commitment to its defense, even as it was trying to engage North Korea in dialogue. The North has accused the South of raising tensions through its purchase of the American jets. Wednesday’s launch marked the first time a projectile fired by North Korea reached the Japanese exclusive economic zone since the North resumed its missile tests this year after a 17-month hiatus. The last North Korean missile that fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone was its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, launched in November 2017. “We are aware of reports of a possible North Korean missile launch,” a senior Trump administration official said Tuesday night in Washington. “We are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in the region.” Just hours before the latest test, officials in North Korea and the United States said that they had agreed to resume official talks over the nuclear weapons program — the first substantive discussions since the two nations’ summit meeting in Hanoi in February failed to produce an accord. Choe Son-hui, first vice foreign minister of North Korea, said her government and Washington had agreed to establish preliminary contact on Friday, to be followed by official, working-level negotiations on Saturday. The State Department confirmed the meeting, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had recently hinted was coming soon.

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