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North Korea Launches First Ballistic Missile Since June

(Bloomberg) — North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile Sunday, marking a return to provocations by making its first such launch since shooting off its single-day record of eight at the start of June.

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At least one short-range ballistic missile was launched from Taechon, about 125 kilometers (80 miles) north of Pyongyang, towards waters off its east coast, South Korea’s military said. The missile reached an altitude of about 50 kms and traveled a distance of about 400 kms before splashing down outside of the Japanese exclusive economic zone, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told a news conference in Tokyo.

The flight path would be consistent with a North Korean short-range ballistic missile. The launch comes as the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier group arrived in South Korea to stage later this week its first combined naval exercises in about five years. It also takes place about a month after the US and South Korea held the Ulchi Freedom Shield — their biggest joint military exercise in about five years.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message sent to reporters that the country “is maintaining its readiness posture.” North Korea has for decades denounced joint drills as a prelude to an invasion and it typically doesn’t comment on its launches until at least a day after the fact — if at all.

So far in 2022, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fired off more ballistic missiles than in any other year of his decade in power. He has tested rockets designed to evade US-operated interceptors, which increase the threat of a credible nuclear strike against the US and its allies in Asia.

The US, Japan and South Korea have all said that North Korea may be looking to soon conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 as it seeks to miniaturize warheads for potential tactility strikes and build more powerful weapons for its missiles that could carry a warhead to the US mainland.

Any display of the weapons in Kim’s nuclear arsenal would serve as a reminder of the pressing security problems posed by Pyongyang that have simmered as US President Joe Biden’s administration has been focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Large-scale drills were put on hold to facilitate nuclear disarmament talks between Kim and former US President Donald Trump, which produced no tangible results in winding down North Korea’s atomic arsenal.

In a show of defiance, North Korea fired two cruise missiles on Aug. 17 in a launch that coincided with a news conference from South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to mark 100 days in office. Although there are no United Nations Security Council resolutions banning launches of such rockets, it was one of the most provocative moves from the state since it fired off eight ballistic missiles on a single day in June.

(Updates with details on missile launch.)

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