North Korea Fires Two Ballistic Missiles Into Sea Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

A woman watches a television news broadcast showing a file image of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on March 21, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP
A woman watches a television news broadcast showing a file image of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on March 21, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP


North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday, the latest in a series of such launches by Pyongyang as the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic.

The South Korean military condemned the launches as “extremely inappropriate given the difficult situation the world is experiencing due to COVID-19… We urge them to stop immediately.”

North Korea has not reported any cases of the coronavirus, which has turned into a major crisis with more than 11,000 deaths and over 250,000 infections worldwide.

There has been widespread speculation, however, that the virus has reached the isolated nation, and health experts have warned that it could devastate the country given its weak medical infrastructure and widespread malnutrition.

Japan’s defence ministry also confirmed the North Korean launches.

For decades, North Korea’s leadership has faced international criticism for prioritising spending on its military and nuclear weapons programme instead of providing for the population — even during times of famine.

Pyongyang considers its military development necessary for security in the face of what it describes as American aggression. North Korea is under multiple sets of punishing sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Hopes for a thaw after meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump were dented as they failed to produce any substantial progress on denuclearising the Korean peninsula, and Pyongyang has since continued to refine its military capabilities, analysts say.

With the latest launch Pyongyang “continues an international strategy of trying to normalise its missile tests”, Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP.

‘Draconian restrictions’

Shortly before the launch, North Korea’s official news agency KCNA reported that the rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, would convene on April 10.

The event would involve gathering nearly 700 officials in one place, analysts said. Such events have been banned in many parts of the world to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“North Korea would not risk holding such a large-scale national political event if the regime was not confident about preventing or containing the spread of the virus,” Rachel Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst at specialist website NK News, told AFP.

Earlier this month, Kim Jong Un sent a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in offering “comfort” as Seoul battled what was the worst outbreak of the virus outside China at the time.

South Korea has since largely brought the contagion under control.

KCNA said Saturday Kim oversaw an “artillery fire competition” among combined units of the army on Friday, releasing photos of him along with military officers — none of them wearing face masks.

But despite North Korea’s decision to go ahead with its parliament session, Pyongyang’s “draconian restrictions on movement, mask-wearing propaganda, public punishment of ‘corrupt’ elites violating quarantine efforts, and rush to build medical facilities suggest COVID-19 has penetrated the country,” Ewha University’s Easley said.

“Pyongyang is likely struggling with a coronavirus crisis on a national scale.”

With fears swirling about an outbreak in North Korea, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights Tomas Ojea Quintana earlier this month called for Pyongyang to provide access to outside medical experts and humanitarian assistance.

The UN Security Council said last month that it would make humanitarian exemptions to sanctions on North Korea to help it fight the coronavirus.


North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Ahead Of Nuclear Talks

People watch a television news screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on October 2, 2019.  Jung Yeon-je / AFP


North Korea fired what appeared to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile, Seoul said Wednesday, just days before Washington and Pyongyang were set to resume long-stalled nuclear talks.

Pyongyang frequently couples diplomatic overtures with military moves, as a way of maintaining pressure on negotiating partners, analysts say, and may believe this weapons system gives it added leverage.

The United States voiced alarm, with a State Department spokesperson calling on North Korea “to refrain from provocations” and “remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations” aimed at bringing stability and denuclearisation.

A proven submarine-based missile capability would take the North’s arsenal to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a second-strike capability in the event of an attack on its military bases.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected a ballistic missile early Wednesday fired in an easterly direction from the sea, northeast of the North Korean port of Wonsan.

The missile was “believed to be one of the Pukkuksong models”, the JCS said in a statement, referring to a line of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) under development by the North.

Launches like this “are not helpful to efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and we urge North Korea again to stop immediately,” it added.

The North carried out a successful test of the solid-fuel Pukkuksong-1, also known as KN-11, in August 2016 which flew around 500 kilometres.

In July, North Korean state media had published pictures of Kim Jong Un inspecting a new type of submarine, fuelling concerns that Pyongyang was pushing ahead with an SLBM programme.

Analysts say the missile is believed to have been fired at a lofted angle, adding it is likely an intermediate-range ballistic missile with an actual flight range of around 2,000 kilometres.

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, drew a line between a recent series of launches by Pyongyang and Wednesday’s test, calling it “an explicitly nuclear weapons system”.

A part of the missile landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone — a 200-kilometre band around Japanese territory — Tokyo said.

“The launching of ballistic missiles violates UN Security Council resolutions and we strongly protest and strongly condemn it,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.

The North is banned from ballistic missile launches under UN Security Council resolutions.

 ‘Negotiating position’ 

The launch came a day after the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said Pyongyang had agreed to hold working-level talks with Washington later this week.

The two sides will have “preliminary contact” on Friday and hold negotiations the following day, Choe said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus later confirmed the talks, which she said would happen “within the next week”.

“It seems North Korea wants to make its negotiating position quite clear before talks even begin,” Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest in Washington said after Wednesday’s launch.

“Pyongyang seems set to push Washington to back off from past demands of full denuclearisation for what are only promises of sanctions relief,” he added.

It is not the first time the North has followed up an offer of talks with a weapons test.

Pyongyang tested what it called a “super-large” rocket launcher last month just hours after Choe released a statement saying that the North was willing to resume working-level talks with Washington.

Negotiations between the two have been deadlocked since a second summit between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in February ended without a deal.

The two agreed to restart dialogue during an impromptu meeting at the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas in June, but the North’s anger at a US refusal to cancel joint military drills with South Korea put the process on hold.

Pyongyang also carried out several weapons tests since the meeting that have been downplayed by Trump, who dismissed them as “small” and insisted his personal ties with Kim remained good.

Relations thawed last month after Trump fired his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, who Pyongyang had repeatedly denounced as a warmonger.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, North Korea’s main ally, said that the United States needed to ease its pressure campaign on Pyongyang.

Speaking to reporters, Wang said that North Korea has “taken a series of positive measures” and that the United States should “meet halfway and make a positive response.”

Iran Dares US, Vows To Launch Ballistic Missile


Iran unveiled a next-generation short-range ballistic missile on Monday and vowed to further boost its capabilities, Iranian media said, at a time of rising tensions with the United States.

State broadcaster IRIB said the new Fateh Mobin missile had “successfully passed its tests” and could strike targets on land and sea.

“As promised to our dear people, we will not spare any effort to increase the missile capabilities of the country and we will certainly increase our missile power every day,” Defence Minister Amir Hatami said, quoted by conservative news agency Tasnim.

The new missile’s range was not given, but previous versions had a range of around 200 to 300 kilometers, according to the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

US officials told Fox News last week that a “Fateh-110 missile” was test-fired by Iran during naval exercises in the Strait of Hormoz last week.

A US general described the exercises as designed to send a message, following threats from Iran that it could shut down the vital, oil-shipping waterway in retaliation for renewed sanctions.

“Nothing can stop this missile because of its high degree of flexibility,” said Hatami, adding that the new version of the Fateh Mobin was “100-percent domestically made… agile, stealth, tactical (and) precision-guided”.

“Be sure that the greater the pressures and psychological warfare against the great nation of Iran, our will to enhance our defence power in all fields will increase,” he added.

President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and world powers in May.

Iran’s missile programme is a major bone of contention, particularly with the United States and its allies, but is seen as vital by Iran to its defensive posture in a troubled region.


‘Saudi Arabia Intercepts Ballistic Missile Near Yemen Border’

FILE PHOTO: South Korean Defence Ministry / AFP

Saudi Arabia on Friday intercepted a ballistic missile over the Kingdom’s South near the border with Yemen, state media reported, hours after Yemeni rebels said they had launched an attack.

The Huthi rebels, locked in a war against Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, said they had fired a missile at the kingdom’s southwestern province of Najran in a statement tweeted by their Al-Masirah television channel.

Saudi air defences intercepted the ballistic missile over Najran, according to the kingdom’s state-owned Al Ekhbariya news channel.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led military alliance fighting the Huthis in Yemen did not immediately respond to a request for further details.

Saudi Arabia, which has been targeted by multiple rocket attacks in recent weeks, has blamed its regional rival Iran for arming the Shiite Huthis in the Yemen war.

The kingdom denounced the threat of “Iranian-manufactured ballistic weapons” after it intercepted a ballistic missile fired from Yemen over Riyadh in December.

No casualties have been reported in the attacks.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of President Abedrabbo Mansur Hadi’s government in March 2015, after the Huthis took over the capital Sanaa and much of the rest of the country.

But despite the coalition’s superior firepower, the rebels still control the capital and much of the north.

More than 8,750 people have been killed since the coalition intervened, according to the World Health Organization.


North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile

North Korea fired an unidentified ballistic missile on Wednesday, according to the South Korean military Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The missile flew eastward from South Pyongan Province according to Yonhap news agency, which said the South Korean military and United States were analysing.

The South’s unification minister said Tuesday that signs of unusual activity had been detected in North Korea.


S.Korea Predicts More N.Korea Ballistic Missile Tests After Nuclear Test

North Korea Missile Launch 'Unacceptable', Says China

South Korea’s defence ministry on Monday said it predicts that North Korea is planning to stage more ballistic missile launches, possibly including an intercontinental ballistic missile, after its nuclear test a day earlier.

The defence ministry was called by parliament on Monday to answer questions about North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test on Sunday.

North Korea said an advanced hydrogen bomb for a long-range missile was tested on Sunday, prompting the warning of a “massive” military response from the United States if it or its allies were threatened.

Read Also: U.S. Threatens ‘Massive Military Response’ If North Korea Attacks

Officials said activity around missile launch sites suggested North Korea planned further provocations.

The acting Deputy Minister of National Defense Policy, Jang Kyoung-Soo, said: “We predict that North Korea could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile to show that they have obtained the means of delivering a nuclear (bomb) to the United States.

“In cooperation with the United States, we will deploy strategic military assets including a carrier strike group and strategic bombers.”

EU Slams N. Korea Missile Launch As ‘Serious Threat’

The European Union (EU) on Tuesday denounced North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile which overflew Japan as another breach of its international obligations and a “serious threat” to regional security.

“These actions constitute outright violations of the DPRK’s international obligations, as set out in several UN Security Council Resolutions, and represent a serious threat to international peace and security,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

“The DPRK must comply without delay, fully and unconditionally, with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and refrain from any further provocative action that could increase regional and global tensions,” Mogherini added.

Read Also: Japan Wakes Up To North Korean Missile Warnings

North Korea — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday in a major escalation that triggered global alarm and a furious response from Tokyo which said it was “unprecedented, serious and grave threat”.

The UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting at Tokyo and Washington’s request.

“I express my full support to Japan and the people of Japan in the face of this direct threat,” Mogherini said.

She said the EU, which has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes, would “consider further appropriate response in close consultation with key partners and in line with UN Security Council deliberations.”

Last month, Pyongyang staged two Intercontinental Ballistic Missile tests that appeared to bring much of the US mainland within reach for the first time.

At the time, US President Donald Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the North, as Pyongyang warned it could fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam.


North Korea Submarine Fires Ballistic Missile

korea missleIn fresh defiance of the United Nations sanctions, North Korea has fired another ballistic missile from a submarine off its east coast.

US officials say the KN-11 missile was launched from waters near Sinpo and flew about 500 kilometres before falling into the Sea of Japan.

The US State Department condemned the recent missile launch by the North Korea and vowed to raise concerns at the UN

The South’s military said it “seemed to be aimed at raising military tension in response to the Seoul-Washington military drill”, BBC reports.
It said it would “sternly and strongly respond to any provocation by North Korea”.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe says it fell inside Japan’s air defence identification zone and called it a “reckless act”.

This comes as South Korea and the US begin annual military drills, which routinely annoys Pyongyang.

North Korea, had earlier warned over the drill saying they are pushing the Korean peninsula towards the brink of war and threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” in retaliation.