North Korea has fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea, officials in South Korea and Japan said, shortly before Pyongyang’s representative told the United Nations the country had the “righteous right” to test weapons because of the “hostile” policies directed against it.
In an emergency National Security Council meeting, the South Korean government expressed regret over what it called “a short-range missile launch at a time when political stability on the Korean Peninsula is very critical”.
South Korea’s military earlier said a projectile fired from North Korea’s mountainous northern Jagang province at about 6:40am local time (21:40 GMT) flew towards the North’s eastern sea.
Details of the launch were being analysed by South Korean and US authorities. But Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said North Korea fired “what could be a ballistic missile” and that his government had stepped up its vigilance and surveillance.
It is the third launch this month after Pyongyang previously tested a “strategic” cruise missile and two railway-borne ballistic missiles. The North is banned from conducting ballistic missile tests under United Nations sanctions imposed over the nuclear-armed country’s weapons programme.
The US State Department condemned the launch and urged Pyongyang to engage in dialogue.
“This launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions and poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community,” it said in a statement. “We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on them to engage in dialogue.”
The launch took place less than hour before North Korea’s UN envoy, Kim Song, addressed the organisation’s annual meeting in New York.
Kim told the UN that Pyongyang had a “righteous right to self-defence” to develop weapons.
“We are just building up our national defence in order to defend ourselves and reliably safeguard the security and peace of the country,” he said, noting the US had nearly 30,000 troops stationed in the South and that there had been no formal treaty to end the Korean War.
The North invaded the South in 1950 and fighting came to an end three years later with an armistice, leaving the two countries technically still in a state of conflict.
If the US gave up its hostility, North Korea would “respond willingly at any time”, Kim told UN delegates in his speech.
“But it is our judgement that there is no prospect at the present stage for the US to really withdraw its hostile policy.”
US President Joe Biden initiated a review of the country’s North Korea policies after taking office in January. Washington has said while it is ready to hold talks with Pyongyang anywhere at any time there will be no “grand bargain”.
In recent days, Pyongyang has given the impression it might be ready to resume engagement with Seoul, after South Korean President Moon Jae-in used his address to the UN last week to reiterate his longstanding calls for a formal declaration of an end to the Korean War.
On Saturday, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a key adviser, said Pyongyang was willing to consider an inter-Korean summit on the basis of mutual “respect” and “impartiality”. A day earlier she had said the North was open to resuming talks with South Korea if it dropped its “hostile” stance.
The South has also been enhancing its military arsenal.
On the same day that Pyongyang tested its railway-launched weapon, South Korea tested its first underwater-launched missile (SLBM), On Tuesday, the Navy planned to launch its third submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles, Yonhap said. The 3,000-tonne vessel will be able to carry 50 crew and remain underwater for 20 days.
Some experts say the North is testing Seoul’s commitment to improving the relationship between the two countries.
“It looks like North Korea wants to see how genuine Seoul is when it comes to its willingness to improve inter-Korean ties – and to officially end the Korean War,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told the AFP news agency.
“Pyongyang will monitor and study Moon’s reaction after today’s launch and decide on what they want to do,” he added.
US-led talks on denuclearisation have been stalled since the collapse of a 2019 summit between then-President Donald Trump and Kim. A key issue is the North’s demand for relief over the sanctions imposed as a result of its nuclear and missile tests.