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NKorea Fires 2 Missiles in 6th Launch  01/27 06:10


   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea on Thursday fired two suspected 
ballistic missiles into the sea in its sixth round of weapons launches this 
month, South Korea's military said.

   Experts say North Korea's unusually fast pace in testing activity 
underscores an intent to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled 
negotiations aimed at exchanging a release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions 
against the North and the North's denuclearization steps.

   The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes the North's 
economy, which was already battered by crippling U.S.-led sanctions over its 
nuclear weapons program and decades of mismanagement by its own government.

   South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons, which were likely 
short-range, were launched five minutes apart from the eastern coastal town of 
Hamhung and flew 190 kilometers (118 miles) on an apogee of 20 kilometers (12.4 
miles) before landing at sea.

   Aviation authorities issued a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, for pilots 
operating in South Korean airspace, advising them of a "missile launched from 
North Korea" and that they maintain close communication with air traffic 
controls, according to the website of South Korea's Office of Civil Aviation.

   The U.S. Indo Pacific Command said the latest launches, while highlighting 
the destabilizing impact of North Korea's weapons program, didn't pose an 
"immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies."

   Japan said the missiles didn't reach its exclusive economic zone and that 
there were no reports of damage to vessels or aircraft around its coast. 
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the North's repeated missile firings 
were "extremely regrettable" and violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

   Senior South Korean security and military officials gathered for an 
emergency National Security Council meeting where they expressed strong regret 
over the North's continuing launches and urged Pyongyang to recommit to 
dialogue, Seoul's presidential office said.

   The North also last week issued a veiled threat to resume the testing of 
nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland, 
which leader Kim Jong Un suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with the 
United States.

   Kim's high-stakes summitry with then-President Donald Trump derailed in 2019 
after the Americans rejected North Korea's demands for major sanctions relief 
in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

   Some experts say North Korea could dramatically escalate weapons 
demonstrations after the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4 in China, the 
North's main ally and economic lifeline.

   They say Pyongyang's leadership likely feels it could use a dramatic 
provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has been 
preoccupied with bigger adversaries including China and Russia.

   The Biden administration has offered open-ended talks but showed no 
willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon the 
nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

   The North has been ramping up its testing activity since last fall, 
demonstrating various missiles and delivery systems apparently designed to 
overwhelm missile defense systems in the region.

   Experts say Kim is trying to apply more pressure on rivals Washington and 
Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of winning relief from economic 
sanctions and convert the diplomacy with Washington into mutual arms-reduction 

   Thursday's launch came two days after South Korea's military detected the 
North flight-testing two suspected cruise missiles at an unspecified inland 

   North Korea opened 2022 with a pair of test-firings of a purported 
hypersonic missile, which Kim described as an asset that would remarkably 
bolster his nuclear "war deterrent."

   The North also this month test-fired two different types of short-range 
ballistic missiles it has developed since 2019 that are designed to be 
maneuverable and fly at low altitudes, which experts say potentially improve 
their chances of evading and defeating missile defense systems.

   In a ruling party meeting attended by Kim last week, the North accused the 
Biden administration of hostility and threats and said it will consider "all 
temporally-suspended activities" it had paused during its diplomacy with the 
Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear 
explosives and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

   Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry had earlier warned of "stronger and certain 
reaction" after the Biden administration imposed fresh sanctions following the 
North's second hypersonic test on Jan. 11.

   The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over 
their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the country's missile 
programs, while the State Department ordered sanctions against another North 
Korean, a Russian man and a Russian company for their broader support of North 
Korea's weapons activities.

   However, Washington's efforts to seek new U.N. Security Council sanctions 
against the five North Koreans sanctioned by the Treasury Department were 
blocked last week by China and Russia, which have called for the U.N. to end 
key sanctions against the North, citing its economic difficulties.

   "Despite efforts to strengthen sanctions, Washington's responses to North 
Korean launches this month are nowhere near its reaction to Pyongyang's 
provocations in 2017," when the North staged an unusually provocative run in 
nuclear and ICBM tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University 
in Seoul.

   "U.S. policy has become more measured and coordinated but is still 
inadequate for changing North Korean behavior. The Biden administration has 
other priorities, ranging from pandemic recovery at home to confronting Russia 
over Ukraine, Iran regarding its nuclear program, and China across the board," 
he said.

   Despite international concerns over its weapons activity, North Korea will 
still get to chair a U.N. disarmament forum during a one-month presidency 
between May 30 and June 24, according to a U.N. statement.

   The U.N. Conference on Disarmament, which has 65 member states and focuses 
on nuclear disarmament issues, says the conference's presidency rotates among 
member states.

   U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based activist group, called for the U.S. and European 
ambassadors to walk out of the conference during North Korea's presidency, 
saying that the country threatens to attack other U.N. member states with 
missiles and commits atrocities against its own people.

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