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North Korea fires artillery shells after arms pledge, South Korea says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on June 12. (Korean Central News Agency/KNS/AP)

SEOUL — North Korea fired artillery shells into the sea on the heels of a major party meeting in Pyongyang during which leader Kim Jong Un called for boosting the country’s military, according to the South Korean military.

“The right of self-defense is precisely the issue of defending sovereignty,” Kim was quoted as saying in state media on Saturday. He reiterated “the invariable battle principle of power for power and head-on contest,” according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Through the first half of 2022, North Korea has conducted a record-breaking flurry of weapons tests, including two this month in a renewed show of force. Sunday’s launch of suspected artillery shells came just a week after North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles in what appeared to be its largest single test.

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

In response to the weapons test, South Korea’s presidential national security office held a meeting to reaffirm Seoul’s military readiness and expressed “concerns about North Korea upgrading its weapons systems that pose a direct threat to the security of South Korea,” according to an official readout of the meeting.

South Korea and the United States recently ramped up their response to North Korea’s beefed-up weapons tests. A day after North Korea test-fired its unprecedented salvo of eight ballistic missiles on June 5, South Korea and the United States launched eight ballistic missiles of their own into the sea.

The allies are also closely monitoring signs of a possible new nuclear test in North Korea, which officials said is in the final stages of preparation and would be the first since 2017.

“Any nuclear test would be in complete violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Seoul last week. “There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test.”

The United States warned that it will push for more U.N. sanctions against North Korea, but experts have raised questions about their effectiveness because they have failed to curb the regime’s military pursuits over the past years.

The U.S.-led push to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile launches was thwarted last month after Russia and China wielded their vetoes. North Korea has not responded to Washington’s offer to restart stalled nuclear talks, as the Biden administration has not expressed willingness to offer sanctions relief demanded by Pyongyang.

Instead, North Korea has been ramping up its weapons test activity, including recent launches of powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles that are considered a red line by the United States.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said Sunday that Seoul will work more closely with the United States and Japan to counter security threats from North Korea.