NKorea confirms missile tests as Biden warns of response

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea on Friday confirmed it had tested a new guided missile as President Joe Biden warned of consequences if Pyongyang escalates tensions amid stalled nuclear negotiations.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the two “new-type tactical guided projectiles” accurately hit the target off the eastern coast on Thursday.

Photos on the website of the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a missile lifting off from a transport erector launcher amid bright flames.

MISSILE TEST This photo provided by the North Korean government, shows what it says a test fire of newly developed new-type tactical guided projectile by the Academy of Defense Science, at an undisclosed place in North Korea on March 25, 2021. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. PHOTO BY AP

KCNA quoted top official Ri Pyong Chol, who supervised the test, as saying that the new weapon’s development “is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats existing on the Korean Peninsula.”

Japanese officials said both weapons tested Thursday were ballistic missiles, which are prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions.

According to South Korean officials, North Korea fired two other missiles on Sunday but they were likely cruise missiles, which are not banned.

The test-firings were the North’s first major provocation since Biden took office in January. Some experts say North Korea aimed to apply pressure on the Biden administration to boost its leverage in future talks.

“We’re consulting with our allies and partners,” Biden told a news conference Thursday.

“And there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly. But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

The United States asked for a meeting of the UN Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea and it will take place Friday morning behind closed doors.

The committee includes representatives from all 15 nations on the council.

US-North Korea talks on curbing the North’s nuclear ambitions have been in a limbo for about two years due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.

In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would expand his weapons arsenal and build up his country’s military capability to cope with what he called American hostility.

KCNA said the new weapon’s warhead weight has been improved to 2.5 tons.

It said Thursday’s test also confirmed the reliability of the improved version of the weapon’s solid fuel engine and its irregular orbit features of low-altitude gliding leap.

South Korean observers said the weapon is likely an upgraded North Korean version of the Russian-made Iskander, a short-range nuclear-capable missile designed to fly at a low altitude and make in-flight guidance adjustments.

They said it has a better chance of evading missile defense systems in South Korea.