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N. Korea fired two cruise missiles off west coast Sunday: sources


North Korea fired two cruise missiles off the west coast Sunday, sources said Wednesday, Pyongyang's first missile test in about a year seen as aimed at testing the administration of US President Joe Biden without being too provocative.

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"What they fired were cruise missiles, not ballistic missiles, and they were detected by our assets," a source said on condition of anonymity, without providing further details, including their exact type and where they were fired from.

The launches mark the North's first known missile test since it launched multiple short-range cruise missiles into the East Sea in April last year.

Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles are not sanctioned by UN Security Council resolutions. The North has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since late 2017.

The United States made no big deal out of the firings, with Biden saying "nothing much has changed" and senior administration officials saying the launches were not in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

The test took place after South Korea and the US also staged their springtime joint military exercise for nine days until Thursday.

Though Seoul and Washington said that the exercise is defensive in nature and was staged in a smaller scale amid the COVID-19 situation and for peace efforts with the North, Pyongyang lodged a strong protest and threatened to scrap an inter-Korean military agreement.

The move also came days after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Korea and agreed with their counterparts here -- Defense Minister Suh Wook and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong -- to work together closely to resolve the North's nuclear and missile issues as their top priority.

Amid little progress in negotiations with the US, North Korea has advanced its conventional weapons and showed off several new types of missiles, including a new inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

Rather than test-firing ballistic missiles, however, the North seems to have opted for taking low-intensity steps, in an apparent move to send warnings to South Korea and the US while remaining open to chances for dialogue, according to experts.

South Korea and the US also appear to be downplaying the North's recent missile activity.

The latest test was made public belatedly Wednesday after reports by foreign press outlets. Following the reports, US President Joe Biden told reporters that "nothing much has changed."

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in South Korea said that it does not announce missile activities of the North in cases where they do not involve ballistic ones.

North Korea has also remained mum on the latest test.

Pyongyang has ignored the Biden government's offer to resume talks.

On Thursday, Choe Son-hui, the North's first vice foreign minister, issued a statement and said any contact and dialogue with the US can be possible only when Washington rolls back its "hostile policy" toward it.

"In order for a dialogue to be made, an atmosphere for both parties to exchange words on an equal basis must be created," the statement read.

The US is scheduled to hold a security meeting with South Korea and Japan to discuss how to deal with issues of North Korea.

Currently, North Korea is carrying out its wintertime drills, which are believed to have begun in December and usually continue through the end of March, according to officials.

"We are closely monitoring the North Korean military activities, while maintaining a firm readiness posture," a JCS officer said.

Ballistic missiles have a much longer range than cruise missiles of the same size and move quickly along their flight path. Ballistic missiles are also deemed more threatening, as they are designed to deliver nuclear weapons. (Yonhap)

Published : March 24, 2021

By : The Korea Herald / ANN