SEOUL — North Korea fired a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile off its east coast on Saturday, authorities in Seoul and Tokyo said, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ramps up military tensions days before a new president takes office in South Korea.
Saturday’s launch comes just three days before the inauguration of South Korea’s next president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher line on North Korean threats.President Biden is to visit Seoul this month and meet with Yoon. This week, the North Korean propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri slammed the incoming South Korean president as “pro-U.S.” and having a “confrontational” attitude toward the North.
As part of its continued weapons development, North Korea has been working on missiles that are capable of being launched from submarines and are harder to detect, making them better suited for a surprise attack. North Korea last tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in October.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi also said that the missile in Saturday’s test appeared to be an SLBM.
Officials in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington said North Korea also is preparing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site for its first nuclear test since 2017. The Punggye-ri location is the country’s only known nuclear test site and has officially been closed since 2018.
“The United States assesses that [North Korea] is preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month, which would be its seventh test,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Friday.
Pyongyang has spurned the Biden administration’s repeated offers of dialogue and instead has elevated military tensions in the region. Hitting an unprecedented pace, North Korea has conducted more than a dozen weapons tests this year, including test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Last week, Kim vowed to speed up the country’s nuclear arms development and threatened nuclear retaliation if provoked by outside forces. He made the remarks at a military parade where intercontinental ballistic missiles were displayed.
Saturday’s launch was the second weapons test by North Korea this week. South Korea’s military said the North on Wednesday fired a missile that traveled about 292 miles at a maximum altitude of 485 miles. The test has not yet been reported in North Korean state media.
“North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches in recent times are serious threats that undermine peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Saturday. “This is an obvious violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and we strongly urge North Korea to stop it immediately.”
Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Tokyo contributed to this report.