North Korea launches third suspected missile in just over a week

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Launch comes as Pyongyang accused United States of intentionally escalating situation by calling for tougher sanctions.

North Korea apparently tested a missile on Friday – the third test in just over a week, hours after criticising the United States push for tougher sanctions as a result of its continued testing of banned weaponry.

“North Korea fires unidentified projectile eastward,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, without giving further details.

Japan’s coast guard said it had detected “the launch from North Korea of what appears to be a ballistic missile or missiles at 14h55”.

A coastguard spokesman told the AFP news agency it was still analysing the area where the projectile fell and whether it was one object or multiple.

If the launch is confirmed it will be the third since January 5, when Pyongyang launched what it later said was a hypersonic missile. Leader Kim Jong Un observed the second test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, the first time he has been pictured at a launch in nearly two years.

Hypersonic weapons travel faster and are more manoeuvrable than conventional missiles and are also being developed by China, Russia and the United States.

North Korea insists its military modernisation and missile tests are necessary for self-defence, and on Friday state media accused the US of intentionally escalating the situation by this week imposing sanctions on individuals, and urging the United Nations to take a tougher line on Pyongyang, Sanctions first imposed by the UN in 2006 have been progressively tightened.

A foreign ministry statement carried by KCNA, the state news agency, warned of an unspecified “stronger and certain reaction” if the US adopts a confrontational stance.

Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said Pyongyang was following a familiar playbook.

“North Korea is trying to lay a trap for the Biden administration,” he said in emailed comments.

“It has queued up missiles that it wants to test anyway and is responding to US pressure with additional provocations in an effort to extort concessions. North Korea should be offered humanitarian assistance once it is willing to diplomatically reengage. But its threats should not be rewarded with international recognition or sanctions relief.”

Denuclearisation talks with Pyongyang have been stalled since the collapse of the 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden, who took office as president a year ago, has tried to encourage the North back to the table, insisting the US is open to discussions without conditions.

Pyongyang contends that while Washington may talk of diplomacy and dialogue, its actions show “it is still engrossed in its policy for isolating and stifling” North Korea.

“The US is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council,” the statement said.

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