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North Korea fires two ballistic missiles – days after testing ‘weapon of great significance’

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles – just a few days after another test, South Korea has said.

They flew towards the peninsula’s east coast on Wednesday, according to South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the launch “outrageous”, but authorities said the missiles landed outside its economic waters.

South Korea and Japan both said they would hold national security council meetings.

North Korea test-fires long-range cruise missile
The Academy of National Defense Science conducts long-range cruise missile tests in North Korea, as pictured in this combination of undated photos supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 13, 2021

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North Korea test-fired a long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state media said

Ballistic missiles can be used to carry large nuclear warheads.

The launch comes as China’s foreign minister was in South Korea to discuss nuclear diplomacy in the region, and two days after the North said it had fired a new long-range cruise missile.

On Monday, the country said it had tested a new cruise missile twice over the weekend and called it “a strategic weapon of great significance”.

The missile hit targets 932 miles away and flew different patterns, said state media.

It was North Korea’s first known testing activity since March, when it launched a new short-range tactical missile.

The country also conducted a cruise missile test just after US President Joe Biden took office in January.

And last month, the United Nations said North Korea appeared to have restarted a nuclear reactor, potentially producing plutonium for nuclear weapons.

2018 
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un meet in a one-on-one bilateral session at the start of their summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore June 12, 2018. Picture taken June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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Talks with the US over North Korea’s nuclear capabilities hit a stumbling block after meetings in 2018 and 2019

Talks over North Korea’s nuclear disarmament have floundered since Donald Trump’s second meeting with Kim Jong Un in 2019, when the former US president rejected a request for major sanctions relief.

Kim Jong Un has so far rejected the Biden administration’s moves for dialogue, demanding Washington’s “hostile” policies are dropped first.

Analysis by Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent

Not long ago, you couldn’t go a week without a North Korean missile launch. But the country has been quieter for a while, perhaps while it dealt with COVID or challenging economic conditions.

Normal service has been very much resumed, though. And, just like buses, after a long wait two launches have come at once.

Over the weekend, the regime announced it had successfully tested a long range cruise missile, one it described as a “strategic weapon of great significance” – code for potentially nuclear capable.

That may or may not be the case and US and South Korean intelligence will be looking closely.

There’s no doubt about today’s launch of two ballistic missiles. Unlike the cruise missile, which was first made public by North Korean state media, both Japanese and South Korean officials reported this launch.

That indicates these were bigger missiles they were able to track.

The timing is interesting. Nuclear negotiators from the US, South Korea and Japan are meeting in Tokyo.

More unusually, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in Seoul to discuss the stalled nuclear diplomacy with President Moon Jae-in.

China is North Korea’s most important friend. Loosing off missiles while he’s in town just over the border may be regarded as a warning to remember whose side he’s supposed to be on, and of the capability and threat that North Korea poses more generally.

Then there was the judgment last month by the UN that North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactor, potentially producing plutonium for warheads.

Add in a big military parade in the capital Pyongyang – where we saw a new, slimmed down Kim Jong Un – and the clear message is that North Korea is back in business.

The issue had been parked for the beginning of the Biden administration, while the world grappled with COVID-19. North Korea’s recent actions are a reminder that it is a long way from being solved.

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