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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says North Korea flew 12 warplanes near their common border on Thursday, prompting South Korea to launch 30 military planes in response.
The South Korean military says eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers flew in formation. The North Korean planes are alleged to have conducted air-to-ground target practice.
It says South Korea responded by scrambling 30 fighter jets.
Previously, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles toward eastern waters, and South Korea conducted naval exercises with the United States and Japan off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula in response.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story is below:
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Thursday after the United States rearranged an aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula in response to Pyongyang’s earlier launch of a nuclear missile over Japan.
The latest missile launches suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is determined to continue with weapons tests aimed at bolstering his nuclear arsenal, despite international sanctions. Many experts say Kim’s goal is to eventually gain recognition of the US as a legitimate nuclear state and to lift those sanctions, although the United States and its allies have shown no signs of allowing it.
The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes after the North capital and landed between the Korean peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement. The first rocket flew 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles), and the second flew 800 kilometers (497 miles) at a peak of 60 kilometers (37 miles).
The flight data was similar to the Japanese assessments announced by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, which confirmed that the missiles did not reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
He added that the second rocket may have been launched on an “irregular” orbit. It is a term used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon, modeled after the Russian Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to reduce the chances of dodging missile defenses. to increase.
US, South Korean and Japanese destroyers later Thursday launched joint exercises off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula to enhance their capabilities to search for, detect and intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said.
The US destroyer is part of the strike group led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which returned to the waters in what the South Korean military called an attempt to demonstrate the “steadfast will” of the Allies to end the ongoing provocations. and counter threats from the north.
The strike group was in the area last week as part of previous exercises between South Korea and the United States, and the other Allies training that involved Japan. North Korea views such US-led exercises near the peninsula as invasion rehearsal and views training involving a US aircraft carrier more provocative.
The South Korean military said it has also stepped up its surveillance position and remains on standby in close cooperation with the United States. The US Indo Pacific Command said the launches posed no immediate threat to the United States or its allies, but still emphasized the “destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone on Thursday and agreed that North Korea’s recent missile tests are “a serious, grave provocation” threatening international peace.
The two leaders also decided to work together to crack down on North Korean provocations, Yoon’s office said. Kishida previously said the North’s continued launches were “absolutely unbearable”.
The launches were North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, contributing to a record number of missile launches this year, leading to condemnation from the United States and other countries. South Korean officials said the North could soon raise the bar by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile or carrying out its first nuclear test explosion since 2017, escalating an old pattern of mounting tensions before attempting to break out of concessions.
Moon Hong Sik, a spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, said North Korea’s accelerating tests also reflect the urgency to meet Kim Jong Un’s weapons development goals.
Kim last year described an extensive wish list of advanced nuclear weapon systems, including more powerful ICBMs, multi-warhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and tactical nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, North Korea held its most provocative weapons demonstration since 2017, firing a medium-range missile over Japan, forcing the Japanese government to issue evacuation warnings and halt trains.
Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile that could reach the U.S. Pacific region from Guam and beyond.
Other weapons tested in recent days have included Iskander-style missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to hit key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the reshuffle of the Reagan strike group “poses a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and its environs.” The ministry said it strongly condemns US-led efforts at the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against the north over recent missile tests, which it described as a “just counteraction” to joint US-South Korean exercises. .
After the launch of the North’s intermediate-range missiles, the United States and South Korea also conducted their own live-fire exercises, which hitherto involved ballistic land-to-land missiles and precision-guided fighter jet bombs.
But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly caused catastrophe on Wednesday when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile capsized and crashed into an air base in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung shortly after takeoff. The South Korean military said no one was injured.
Following Tuesday’s North Korean launch, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland have called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. But Wednesday’s session ended without a consensus, underscoring the divisions among permanent members of the council that have grown over Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Russia and China urged other members of the Security Council at the meeting that US-led military exercises in the region had sparked action in North Korea.
The United States and its allies expressed concern that the council’s inability to agree on North Korea’s record number of missile launches this year encouraged North Korea and undermined the authority of the United Nations’ most powerful body.
North Korea has fired more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles at more than 20 launch events this year, using stalled diplomacy with the United States-Russia war against Ukraine as a window to accelerate weapons development.