NK Fires Suspected Ballistic Missile After SK Elects New Hardline President
NORTH KOREA - North Korea has reportedly fired an unidentified projectile toward the East Sea just days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to bolster its nuclear arsenal "at the fastest possible pace" and threatened to use them against rivals.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the Japanese Defense Ministry reported the launch of the unidentified projectile from North Korea. Sources say the projectile was fired from Pyongyang Sunan Airport at about 12:03pm local time.
The reported launch comes just days before South Korea's new, more conservative president-elect Yoon Suk Yeol officially takes office. Yoon said that he vows to solidify the country's alliance with the United States, build a powerful military and sternly cope with North Korean provocations.
Yoon had accused the previous president, Moon Jae-in of favoring relations with North Korea and China and neglecting relations with the United States.
The North Korean leader Kim Jon-un, on the other hand said that he appreciated the outgoing president's efforts to improve on relations between the two countries.
Kim reportedly exchanged letters with the liberal outgoing president of South Korea expressing hope for improved inter-Korean ties. Kim received a 'personal' letter from Moon in late April expressing that he wanted to two countries to make joint declarations to establish 'the foundation' to reunify, even after he leaves office on May 9th according to North Korea's KCNA news agency.
Moon had said that the 'era of confrontation' should be overcome with dialogue, and that inter-Korean engagement is now a job for the next administration, according to spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee who told a briefing.
Kim's reply said that he appreciated the 'pains and effort' that Moon gave for the 'great cause of the nation' and said that the letter exchange was an 'expression of their deep trust'.
"Sharing the same view that the inter-Korean relations would improve and develop as desired and anticipated by the nation if the North and the South make tireless efforts with hope" the reply stated.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul stated, "This is an indirect message to the South’s new government that the North is pursuing a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue but it won’t cooperate if Seoul is taking confrontational attitudes".
"It is laying the groundwork for justifying its provocative acts including the seventh nuclear test, shifting the responsibility for it to the South’s new conservative government’s hardline stance" he stated.
Yoon, however, who begins his five-year term May 9th, says that he will make a stronger alliance with the United States and center foreign policy around the U.S, and voiced a need to recognize the importance of mending ties with Japan.
"I’ll rebuild the South Korea-U.S. alliance. I’ll (make) it a strategic comprehensive alliance while sharing key values like liberal democracy, a market economy and human rights" he stated. in a televised news conference.
"I’ll establish a strong military capacity to completely deter any provocation,” Yoon said. “I’ll firmly deal with illicit, unreasonable behavior by North Korea in a principled manner, though I’ll always leave open the door for South-North talks" he added.
In March, Yoon had described North Korea as South Korea's 'main enemy' and had vowed to harden the country's missile defenses and secure preemptive strike capability against any potential attacks.
*UPDATE* The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff has confirmed North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile that was launched from Sunan, Pyongyang at 12:03 pm on May 4th and landed into the East Sea.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the missile had a flight range of 470 kilometers (292 miles) and an altitude of 780 kilometers (484 miles) with a speed of Mach 11.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency says that some South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies are currently analyzing the specifications in detail.
Yonhap says that some experts believe North Korea might have reduced the range of the Hwasong-17 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that had failed in a March test, in order to retest the missile.
Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the successive ballistic missile launches by North Korea pose "a grave threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community and is a clear violation of 'UN Security Council resolutions".
The Joint Chiefs of Staff stated, "Our military is maintaining a full readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related trends in preparation for additional launches".
It was also reported that the United States Cobra Ball (RC-135S) reconnaissance aircraft was caught on sortie over the Korean Peninsula while the North Korean missile was being launched.
The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters during his visit to Rome that "North Korea’s series of actions that threatens the peace, safety and stability of the international community are impermissible".
Kishida also said that he'll be discussing the launch when he meets with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi later on Wednesday. "Naturally, we will exchange views on the regional situation in the Indo-Pacific and East Asia, and I will thoroughly explain the reality of the region including the North Korean missile launch today, to gain understanding about the pressing situation in the East Asia" he stated.