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North Korea tests rail missile in latest launch amid growing tension with US

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SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea tested a rail missile during its firing exercises on Friday, state media KCNA said on Saturday, as the United States pushes for new sanctions against the isolated state following a his recent series of weapons tests.

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South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) traveled about 430 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 36 km after being launched eastward at the northwest coast of North Korea.

The official KCNA news agency did not specify the range or trajectory of the missiles, but said a firing exercise had been held in North Pyongan province to “check and judge mastery of firing procedures. action of the railway regiment”.

The country first tested the rail system last September, saying it was designed as a potential counterattack against any threatening force.

Since the New Year, North Korea has launched three ballistic missiles in an unusually rapid sequence of weapons testing. The previous two launches involved what state media called “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speeds and post-launch maneuvering.

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Hours before the latest test exercise, North Korea criticized the United States for applying new sanctions in response to its recent missile launches, calling them a “provocation” and warning of a strong reaction.

US President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday imposed its first sanctions on Pyongyang and called on the UN Security Council to blacklist several North Korean individuals and entities.

North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defense and accused the United States of intentionally aggravating the situation with new sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend the exercise. KCNA said the military leadership ordered the test “at short notice” and that the system precisely hit the target set on the east coast with “two tactically guided missiles”.

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The system “demonstrated high maneuverability and success rate”, KCNA said, adding that its success had led to talks to “establish a suitable railway missile operating system across the country”.

North Korea is steadily developing its weapons systems, upping the ante for stalled talks to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in exchange for US sanctions relief.

South Korea’s Chung Eui-yong and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the latest launch during their phone call on Saturday and coordinated responses to the North’s recent missile tests, the State Department said.

Both sides stressed the importance of maintaining a firm and combined preparedness stance and urged Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table, the Seoul foreign ministry said.

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‘SHORT TERM’

Cheong Seong-chang, director of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said the test could be an “instant show of force” to protest the US sanctions push, noting that it does not was not planned in advance and that it took place in an unusual way in the afternoon.

“It’s a message that they would take an eye-to-eye approach if Washington demanded sanctions for testing short-range missiles,” Cheong said.

KCNA released photographs showing a missile trailing a column of smoke and flame as it was launched from the top of an olive-green train into a mountainous area, before descending onto a small island, sending up a cloud of smoke and flames. debris when it hit.

Despite North Korea’s limited and sometimes unreliable rail network, rail-mobile missiles are a relatively cheap and effective option to improve the survivability of their nuclear forces, making it difficult for enemies to detect and defeat them. destroy them before they are fired, analysts said.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korean naval officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said North Korea appears to have fired KN-23 SRBMs, which were also tested in September, when they traveled 800 km.

First tested in May 2019, the KN-23 visually resembles the Russian Iskander-M SRBM and is designed to evade missile defenses and conduct precision strikes, experts said.

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