North Korea fires suspected ICBM after Biden visit to region

North Korea fired three missiles on Wednesday, including one believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), after US President Joe Biden left Asia following a trip in which he agreed to new measures to deter the nuclear-weapon state.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the three missiles were fired in less than an hour from the Sunan area of ​​the northern capital, Pyongyang, where its international airport has become a testing hub of missiles.

The first missile launched Wednesday appears to be an ICBM, while an unidentified second missile appears to have failed in midair, the South said. The third missile was a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), he said.

In response, the United States and South Korea held combined military exercises, including surface-to-surface missile tests, the South Korean military said.

Apparently preparing for a nuclear test

North Korea has carried out a flurry of missile launches this year, ranging from hypersonic weapons to test-firing its largest ICBMs for the first time in nearly five years. It also appears to be preparing for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017.

US and South Korean officials had recently warned that North Korea appeared poised for another weapons test, possibly during Biden’s visit, which was his first trip to Asia as president and included a summit. with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul.

Yoon, who took office on May 10, called his first meeting of the National Security Council, which strongly condemned the latest launch as a “serious provocation”, especially since it came before Biden returned. his home.

Yoon ordered aides to reinforce the extended deterrence and combined defense posture of the United States, as agreed with Biden, his office said.

“North Korea’s continued provocations will only lead to even stronger and faster deterrence between South Korea and the United States and deepen its isolation,” Yoon’s government said in a separate statement.

A White House official said Biden, who left Japan on Tuesday evening, had been notified of the launches and would continue to receive updates.

The missile traveled 750 km

Japan reported at least two launches, but acknowledged there may be more. One of the missiles flew a distance of about 750 kilometers to a maximum altitude of 50 km and appeared capable of altering its trajectory in flight, the Japanese defense minister said. Another missile traveled about 300 km and reached a maximum altitude of 550 km, he said.

Japanese broadcaster NHK said the missiles appeared to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the North could take more provocative steps, including a nuclear test.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, front, arrives to attend the National Security Council meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Ahn Jung-won/Yonhap/Associated Press)

The US Army’s Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of “multiple” launches. They underscored “the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program” but posed no immediate threat, he said in a statement, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

In Seoul over the weekend, Biden and Yoon agreed to hold larger military exercises and deploy more U.S. strategic assets as needed to deter North Korea’s increased weapons testing.

But they also offered to send COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea as the isolated country battles its first confirmed outbreak, and called on Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.

There had been no response from Pyongyang to diplomatic overtures or offers of help, Biden said at the time.

The final hours of Biden’s visit to the region also saw Russian and Chinese bombers conduct joint patrols near Japanese and South Korean air defense zones on Tuesday in a pointed farewell.