North Korea launched three ballistic missiles Wednesday morning, South Korea's military said, including an ICBM. The test comes one day after U.S. President Joe Biden concluded an Asia visit. Photo by Yonhap
SEOUL, May 24 (UPI) -- One day after U.S. President Joe Biden concluded his trip to Asia, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles eastward into the sea, including one probable ICBM, the South Korean military said Wednesday.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff detected the three launches from the area of Pyongyang's international airport at roughly 6 a.m., 6:37 a.m. and 6:42 a.m., it said in a text message sent to reporters.
The first missile, believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, flew a distance of roughly 223 miles and reached an altitude of 335 miles, the JCS said. The second missile failed in midair, and the third was a short-range ballistic missile that traveled 472 miles at a maximum altitude of 37 miles.
The round of weapons tests was Pyongyang's 17th of the year and its second full launch of an ICBM in two months after leader Kim Jong Un lifted a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear tests that had been in place since a period of diplomatic rapprochement in 2018.
Pyongyang's latest provocation comes after Seoul and Washington were on high alert during Biden's five-day visit to South Korea and Japan, which wrapped up on Tuesday.
In Seoul, Biden held a summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and reaffirmed Washington's extended deterrence commitment "using the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities."
Yoon on Wednesday convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council and called for "the implementation of practical measures such as extended deterrence and the strengthening of the ROK-U.S. joint defense posture as agreed upon by the leaders of South Korea and the United States," his office said in a statement. The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
The NSC condemned the launches "as a grave provocation that violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, raises tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia and threatens international peace," the statement said.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his South Korean counterpart on Wednesday and "reaffirmed the United States' steadfast commitment to the defense of the ROK," the White House said in a readout of the call.
The top diplomats of Seoul and Washington also conferred after the launches, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterpart Park Min agreeing "to work closely together for the prompt adoption of a new U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea," according to a statement from South Korea's Foreign Ministry.
Blinken and Park called it "deplorable" that Pyongyang would use "its main financial resources for nuclear and missile development rather than quarantine and improvement of people's livelihood," the statement said.
North Korea has been scrambling to contain a widespread COVID-19 outbreak that it traces back to late April, with state media saying Wednesday that more than 3 million fever cases have been reported in the unvaccinated country.
South Korean and American combined forces reacted to the launches with a live-fire exercise of surface-to-surface missiles. The forces fired one missile from the U.S. Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, and one Korean Hyunmu-2 missile, both militaries said.
The exercise "demonstrates the ability of the combined ROK-U.S. force to respond quickly to crisis events," U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement.
The South Korean Air Force also mobilized 30 fully armed F-15K fighter jets after the North Korean provocation, the JCS said. On Tuesday, the Air Force conducted an "Elephant Walk" exercise involving dozens of jets, including F-35A stealth fighters, taxiing in formation.
Japan's Defense Ministry reported the launches on Wednesday, saying that it detected two ballistic missiles from North Korea that appeared to splash down in the sea outside of the country's Exclusive Economic Zone.
"A series of North Korean actions, including the repeated launches of ballistic missiles, threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community," the ministry said in a statement.
"It is unacceptable to launch missiles in quick succession during the invasion of Ukraine," the statement added.
Officials in Seoul and Washington have said publicly that Pyongyang also appears ready to conduct a nuclear weapon test, its seventh overall and first in five years.