SEOUL — North Korea on Sunday conducted what appeared to be its longest-range missile test in five years as it ramps up military pressure amid long-stalled nuclear talks.
The missile appears to have fallen into waters outside the country’s maritime exclusive economic zone, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, according to Kyodo News. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the weapons test and convened a meeting of the national security council, according to Kyodo.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of his country’s national security council to discuss North Korea’s weapons test. Moon criticized the intermediate-range missile test as “a challenge to the international community’s efforts for a diplomatic solution and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
North Korea has not tested its longest-range ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons since 2017, when it conducted a nuclear test and test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. Following the missile test Sunday morning, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies but called on North Korea to “refrain from further destabilizing acts.”
The flurry of weapons tests in 2017 led to punishing economic sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. The following year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, and launched efforts at diplomacy.
However, Pyongyang suggested this month that it may lift the self-imposed moratorium, citing the need to counter hostility from the United States. Experts say North Korea is ramping up the pressure to force concessions from Washington amid a long stalemate in nuclear negotiations.
Sunday’s launch marks North Korea’s seventh weapons test this month, more than it conducted all of last year.
Last week, North Korea said it successfully tested long-range cruise missiles and “surface-to-surface tactical guided” ballistic missiles.
Despite the sanctions, North Korea has been building up its missile capabilities under Kim’s directive. Last year, he announced a new five-year plan for weapons development and vowed arms modernization. North Korean state media said Friday that Kim inspected a munitions factory and called for the production of “powerful cutting-edge arms.”
This month, the Biden administration imposed fresh sanctions over North Korea’s weapons program after Pyongyang said it tested hypersonic missiles. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the new sanctions, saying its weapons program is defensive in nature.
The relationship between Pyongyang and Washington has soured since Kim’s nuclear summit with then-President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019 because of disagreements over sanctions relief in exchange for denuclearization. Pyongyang has given a cold shoulder to the Biden administration’s offers to hold talks “anytime, anywhere” without preconditions.