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U.S. and South Korea respond to North Korean launch with 8 missiles of their own

South Korea and the United States test-fired eight ballistic missiles on June 6, matching North Korea’s weapons tests the day before. (Video: Reuters)

TOKYO — The U.S. and South Korean militaries test-fired eight ballistic missiles on Monday, matching North Korea’s weapons tests the day before, in a stern show of force marking the hardening line toward Pyongyang.

U.S. Forces Korea and the South Korean military fired one U.S. missile and seven South Korean missiles eastward into the sea to demonstrate the countries’ ability to “respond quickly to crisis events,” the U.S. military said Monday.

On Sunday, North Korea fired off a battery of eight short-range missiles, as it continues to build and test new weapons to evade existing missile defense systems.

It was the 18th round of missile launches in 2022 alone. Pyongyang has conducted an unprecedented number of tests, in line with leader Kim Jong Un’s five-year plan for the program.

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“The South Korea-U.S. combined firing of the ground-to-ground missiles demonstrated the capability and posture to launch immediate precision strikes on the origins of provocations, even if North Korea launches missiles from various locations,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

Monday’s response by the United States and South Korea underscores the countries’ intent to act in lockstep to North Korea’s missile tests — a shift since the inauguration of South Korea’s new conservative president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to take a firmer approach to the North than his pro-engagement predecessor.

“Even at this moment, North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats are getting sophisticated,” Yoon said Monday. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile [programs] are reaching the level of threatening not only peace on the Korean Peninsula but also in Northeast Asia and the world.”

The U.S. and South Korean militaries launched ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles from South Korea’s northeastern Gangwon province, firing eight missiles within a 10-minute period starting at 4:45 a.m., South Korea’s military said.

North Korea on Sunday fired eight suspected ballistic missiles east into the ocean within a 35-minute period from 9:08 a.m. from four locations, the South Korean military said.

In response, Japan’s Self Defense Forces on Sunday held a joint military drill with the United States. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said North Korea’s actions “cannot be tolerated.”

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North Korea has not yet released information about its latest launch. The reclusive country has halted the regular release of information about its missile tests in recent weeks.

Last week, the U.S. and South Korean militaries held a three-day naval exercise in international waters off Okinawa aimed at reinforcing the allies’ response to North Korea’s mounting weapons ambitions, the South Korean military said.

The joint drill was the first in more than four years, underscoring efforts by the Yoon government to align closely with the United States on matters related to North Korea. Pyongyang views the exercises as “hostile” acts toward the country and cites them as reasons to continue developing its weapons capabilities.

Intelligence officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan have said that North Korea appears to have completed preparations for its seventh nuclear test, which would be the first since 2017.

Officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul on Friday to reinforce ties amid signs of the upcoming nuclear test. The United States has proposed greater sanctions on North Korea for its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests.

Relations between the United States and North Korea have remained deadlocked since 2019, when nuclear negotiations fell apart.

The Biden administration so far has not shown a willingness to give North Korea the sanctions relief it seeks. Yoon has said the “ball is in Chairman Kim’s court” to jump-start negotiations again. Kim has not indicated any desire to engage with either country in the absence of sanctions relief.

Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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