Sat, 21 May 2022

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - North Korea launched what appears to be another ballistic missile, Japan's coast guard reported Friday, Pyongyang's third missile launch of the new year.

South Korea's military also confirmed the launch, saying only the North Korean projectile was launched toward the east. No further details were available.

North Korea has already conducted three launches this year, all within the last 10 days - a pace reminiscent of 2017, when U.S.-North Korea relations were at a low point.

The previous two tests involved what North Korea claims are hypersonic missiles. Although defense analysts say North Korea may be overstating its capabilities in this area, such weapons are likely more difficult for U.S. missile defenses to detect and intercept.

The United States this week issued a stronger than usual condemnation of the North Korean launches. It also imposed unilateral sanctions on five North Koreans it alleged were helping procure supplies for Pyongyang's weapons program.

In an interview Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the North Korean tests "profoundly destabilizing" and meant in part to "get attention."

"It's done that in the past, it'll probably continue to do that. But we are very focused with allies and partners in making sure that they and we are properly defended and that there are repercussions, consequences for these actions by North Korea," Blinken told MSNBC, a U.S. cable news network.

Early Friday, before its latest launch, North Korea's Foreign Ministry lashed out at Washington, accusing the U.S. of "intentionally escalating the situation" with unilateral sanctions.

"If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it," a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, according to state media, which used an abbreviation of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly offered to hold nuclear talks with North Korea "anywhere, anytime." North Korea has ignored or rejected the offers, saying Washington must first provide more concessions and drop what it calls a "hostile policy."

North Korea walked away from talks with the United States in 2019, after the two sides could not agree on a deal to relax U.S. sanctions in exchange for steps by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

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