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U.S., South Korea fire ballistic missiles in warning to North Korea

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TOKYO — The U.S. and South Korean militaries test-fired eight ballistic missiles on Monday matching North Korea’s weapons tests the day before, in a stern show of force marking the hardening line toward the North.

The U.S. Forces Korea and the South Korean military fired one U.S. missile and seven South Korean missiles eastward into the sea to demonstrate the two countries’ ability to “respond quickly to crisis events,” the U.S. military said Monday.

On Sunday, North Korea fired off a battery of eight short-range missiles as it continues to build and test new weapons to evade existing missile defense systems. It was the 18th round of missiles launches in 2022 alone, as Pyongyang conducts an unprecedented number of tests in line with leader Kim Jong Un’s five-year plan for the program.

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“The South Korea-U.S. combined firing of the ground-to-ground missiles demonstrated the capability and posture to launch immediate precision strikes on the origins of provocations, even if North Korea launches missiles from various locations,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

Monday’s response by the United States and South Korea underscore the countries’ intent to act in lock-step in response to North Korea’s missile tests — a shift since the inauguration of South Korea’s new conservative president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to take a firmer approach to the North than his pro-engagement predecessor.

“Even at this moment, North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats are getting sophisticated,” Yoon said Monday. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile [programs] are reaching the level of threatening not only peace on the Korean Peninsula but also in Northeast Asia and the world.”

The U.S.-South Korean militaries launched the ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System missiles from the Northeastern Gangwon Province of South Korea, firing eight missiles within a 10-minute period beginning 4:45 a.m., South Korea’s military said.

North Korea on Sunday fired its eight suspected ballistic missiles toward the east into the ocean on Sunday within a 35-minute period from 9:08 a.m. from four locations, the South Korean military said.

In response, Japan’s Self Defense Forces on Sunday held a joint military drill with the United States and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said North Korea’s act “cannot be tolerated.”

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North Korea has not yet released information about its latest launch. The reclusive country has halted regular release of information about its missile tests in recent weeks.

Last week, the United States and South Korean militaries held a three-day naval exercise in the international waters off Okinawa, aimed at reinforcing the allies’ response to North Korea’s rising weapons ambitions, the South Korean military said.

The joint drill was the first in more than four years, underscoring the efforts by the Yoon government to align closely with the United States on North Korea matters. Pyongyang views the joint exercises as “hostile” acts toward the country and cites them as reasons for continue developing its weapons capabilities.

Intelligence officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan have said that North Korea appears to have completed preparations for its seventh nuclear test, which would be the first since 2017.

Officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul on Friday to reinforce the three countries’ ties amid signs of the upcoming nuclear test. The United States has advocated for greater sanctions on North Korea in response to its violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests.

The tit-for-tat military actions come as the United States and North Korea remain deadlocked in diplomatic relations since 2019, when nuclear negotiations fell apart.

The Biden administration has not yet shown its willingness to give North Korea the sanctions relief it seeks. Yoon has said the “ball is in Chairman Kim’s court,” to jump-start negotiations again. Kim has not indicated any desire to engage with either country in the absence of sanctions relief.

Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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