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North Korea fires missile ahead of Biden’s Seoul visit

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North Korea yesterday launched what appeared to be a medium-range ballistic missile, as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ramps up his nuclear program ahead of US President Joe Biden’s first visit to Seoul.

The regime fired off a ballistic missile just after noon from an area near Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The missile flew about 780km into space and fell into the sea about 470km away, giving it a possible reach consistent with a medium-range ballistic missile.

South Korea said it was still analyzing details of the launch and North Korean state media often do not reveal details of such exercises until at least the next day.

Kim’s regime is on pace for its busiest testing year ever, after launching at least 14 ballistic missiles since Jan. 1, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017.

South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition team denounced the latest launch as an “outright violation” of UN resolutions banning ballistic missile tests.

The act “threatens the peace and security of the international community and is absolutely unacceptable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a group of reporters while visiting Rome, Kyodo News said.

Biden is expected to visit Seoul on May 20, even as Pyongyang continues to rebuff his overtures to restart talks. During a military parade in Pyongyang last week, Kim showed off the full range of new missiles developed during his decade-long reign and vowed to further accelerate the program.

Satellite imagery indicates North Korea is preparing a key site for the nation’s first test of a nuclear bomb in almost five years. Any such display would serve as a reminder of the pressing security problems posed by Pyongyang that have simmered as the Biden administrations focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“North Korea seems to have resumed its martial protests before Biden’s visit to South Korea later this month and as US deploys its strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former security strategy secretary for South Korea’s presidential office.

Asked by lawmakers during parliamentary hearings what sort of weapon Kim launched, South Korean minister of defense nominee Lee Jong-sup said that it could have been an intercontinental ballistic missile or a missile with a shorter range.

That fed speculation that Kim could have tested his most advanced Hwasong-17 rocket at a reduced thrust to ensure success.

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