A woman watches the news at a station in Seoul, South Korea, 14 March 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/JEON HEON-KYUN

North Korea fires ICBM ahead of Japan-South Korea summit

Seoul, Mar 16 (EFE).- North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday, Seoul’s military said, hours ahead of a summit between the leaders of South Korea and Japan in which Pyongyang’s weapons tests is expected to be high on the discussion agenda.

A handout photo made available by the South Korean presidential office shows South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (2nd from L) attending an emergency National Security Council meeting at the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea, on 16 March 2023, after North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile toward the East Sea. EFE/EPA/South Korean presidential office HANDOUT SOUTH KOREA OUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected a long-range ballistic missile launched from Sunan area in Pyongyang at around 7.10 am (22:10 GMT Wednesday) at a lofted angle and which flew for around 1,000 kilometers before falling into the Sea of Japan.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (R), alongside his wife, Kim Keon Hee (L), boards the presidential plane at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, South Korea, 16 March 2023, for his two-day trip to Tokyo, where he will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. EFE/EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT

Sunan, where the North Korean capital’s airport is located, is a place from which the regime has launched ICBM missiles on more than one occasion.

“The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a comprehensive analysis in consideration of recent movements related to the North’s missile development program,” the JCS told reporters, according to Yonhap news agency.

“We strongly condemn the North’s series of ballistic missile launches as an act of significant provocation that harms peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in the international community, and a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

Japan’s Ministry of Defense said that the projectile flew for about 69 minutes and traveled about 1,000 kilometers at a maximum altitude of over 6,000 km before falling outside its exclusive economic zone some 250 kilometers west of Oshima island, off Hokkaido, into the Sea of Japan at around 8.18 am local time (23:18 GMT on Wednesday).

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Tokyo is coordinating with Seoul and Washington to collect and analyze information about the launch, which has not caused any incidents with any vessels.

On Feb. 18, the North also fired what it claimed to be a Hwasong-15 ICBM.

The new launch comes just hours before South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol was to travel to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo for the first bilateral visit in 12 years as the neighbors try to improve relations.

Kishida said Thursday ahead of Yoon’s arrival that he was not in a position to say what North Korea’s intentions are, but believes that maintaining peace and stability in the region is an important issue and that Tokyo needs to work even more closely with its allies and like-minded countries, according to by the broadcaster NHK.

The rise to power of the conservative Yoon last May and the weapons advances of Pyongyang are serving to boost cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo, especially in the military field, after a period of particularly tense ties.

The North Korean test, the eighth so far this year, also comes in response to the spring Freedom Shield exercises of the US and South Korea, which Pyongyang considers a test for the invasion of its territory and to which it has promised an “unprecedented” response.

The peninsula is experiencing high tensions after 2022 in which Pyongyang, which has rejected offers to return to dialogue, carried out a record number of weapons tests and in which the allies once again carried out large-scale military maneuvers and deployed military assets in the area. EFE