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North Korea fires projectile, believed to be ballistic missile

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North Korea fires projectile, believed to be ballistic missile
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook answers lawmakers' questions during an emergency report by his ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on North Korea's latest apparent ballistic missile launch to the National Assembly's defense committee in Seoul on Wednesday. Pool Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- North Korea fired a missile into the sea Wednesday morning, the governments of South Korea and Japan said, marking the first military provocation of the new year by Pyongyang.

The North launched the projectile, presumed to be a ballistic missile, into the sea between Korea and Japan at 8:10 a.m., South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters.

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"South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies are conducting detailed analysis for additional information," the message said.

The militaries of both countries are closely monitoring the situation in preparation for possible additional launches, the JCS added.

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Japan's Defense Ministry also confirmed the launch, saying that the suspected ballistic missile appeared to travel around 310 miles before splashing down in waters outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.

Hawaii-based U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that it was "aware of the ballistic missile launch" and was consulting closely with allies.

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"While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the ballistic missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK's illicit weapons program," the statement said. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.

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The launch was North Korea's first missile test since October, when the secretive state fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Pyongyang conducted a series of weapons tests in September and October, including a train-launched missile and what it claimed to be a hypersonic missile.

North Korea is prohibited from engaging in any ballistic missile activities under United Nations Security Council resolutions, but that hasn't deterred the regime of Kim Jong Un from developing an increasingly dangerous arsenal, according to a report issued last month by the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

"North Korea continues to advance its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite U.N. Security Council sanctions and high-level diplomatic efforts," the report said. "Recent ballistic missile tests and military parades suggest that North Korea is continuing to build a nuclear warfighting capability designed to evade regional ballistic missile defenses."

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South Korea's National Security Council convened an emergency meeting and expressed concern about the launch, saying it "took place at a time when political stability at home and abroad is very important."

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The committee members "emphasized the importance of resuming dialogue with North Korea in order to resolve the current strained and tense state of inter-Korean relations," according to a statement issued by the presidential Blue House.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida responded to the launch by condemning North Korea's repeated provocations.

"It is regrettable that North Korea has been launching missiles continuously since last year," Kishida told reporters. He issued instructions to ensure the safety of aircraft, vessels and other assets and told his government to prepare for contingencies.

The launch comes days after South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a New Year's address that he would continue to push for an end-of-war declaration with North Korea through the rest of his term, which ends in May. The 1950-53 Korean War stopped with an armistice, but no peace treaty was signed, leaving the two countries technically at war.

Kim Jong Un focused primarily on domestic issues during his own address marking the new year, but did emphasize the need to continue building up the country's military strength.

"The military environment of the Korean Peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defense capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment's delay," Kim said during a year-end meeting of the ruling Worker's Party, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency.

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