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North fires missile into East Sea ahead of UN meeting

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Two U.S. B-1B strategic bombers fly in the center of a formation alongside South Korean F-35A stealth fighters (above) and U.S. F-16 fighters (below) during a joint air force drill in tge skies above the Korean Peninsula on Sunday after the North launched a suspected short-range ballistic missile. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]
Two U.S. B-1B strategic bombers fly in the center of a formation alongside South Korean F-35A stealth fighters (above) and U.S. F-16 fighters (below) during a joint air force drill in tge skies above the Korean Peninsula on Sunday after the North launched a suspected short-range ballistic missile. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]

North Korea fired a ballistic missile that landed in the East Sea, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday, ahead of a scheduled United Nations Security Council meeting in New York on Monday to discuss the North’s recent missile launches.

The suspected short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) was launched at 11:05 a.m. from Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, and traveled roughly 800 kilometers (497 miles) before splashing down in waters east of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean defense officials who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity noted that the flight trajectory of Sunday’s missile suggests it was a KN-23, a North Korean SRBM that bears a close resemblance to the Russian-made Iskander missile.

Japan’s defense ministry said that the North Korean missile reached a peak altitude of 50 kilometers and landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Sunday’s missile launch by the North was condemned by South Korean, Japanese and U.S. defense officials as a threat to regional and international security.

The JCS called Pyongyang’s successive ballistic missile launches “grave provocations” that “undermine peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as that of the international community.”

The JCS also said that the South Korean military “will continue to maintain a firm readiness posture to respond overwhelmingly” to potential North Korean attacks while “carrying out scheduled joint exercises with a robust joint defense posture” alongside the U.S. military.

The Defense Ministry said that two U.S. B-1B strategic bombers returned to South Korea after the missile launch on Sunday to join South Korean F-35A stealth fighter jets and U.S. F-16 fighters involved in ongoing joint air force drills.

The same day, Japanese Defense Minister Toshiro Ino told reporters at a press conference that the launch posed “a threat” to Japan, the region and the international community that “absolutely cannot be tolerated,” adding Tokyo had lodged a strong protest to the North Korean embassy in Beijing.

The launch is the fourth missile launch event by the North since March 12. South Korea and the United States started joint military exercises on March 13.

The exercises, which include the main Freedom Shield command post exercise as well as the first large-scale field training exercises since 2018, are due to end on March 23.

The previous missile launch, which took place on Thursday, was that of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile, according to Pyongyang’s state-controlled media.

The launch took place the same day President Yoon Suk Yeol left for Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, which was also the first summit in 12 years between the leaders of South Korea and Japan.

In response to Thursday’s ICBM test, South Korea, the United States and Japan requested an open session of the United Nations Security Council, which the body said will take place on Monday morning in New York.

Although the 15-member council is set to discuss non-proliferation and North Korea, it is unlikely that the body will adopt new sanctions resolutions or a statement against Pyongyang’s missile launches, given recent opposition from veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China to any new measures against the regime.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused the two countries on Friday of attempting to shield North Korea from international scrutiny into its illicit weapons programs and human rights abuses.

“Some council members are all too willing to shield the regime from accountability,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The U.S. ambassador made the remarks after China blocked the webcast of an informal Security Council meeting on accusations of human rights abuses by North Korea.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]