North Korea launches an intercontinental ballistic missile after threatening the United States

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People in Seoul watch a news report of North Korea’s missile launch on Wednesday

North Korea has launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, Japanese and South Korean officials have reported.

The long-range missile flew for more than an hour before touching down just outside Japanese waters on Wednesday morning.

Pyongyang’s firing comes after it threatened retaliation for what it said were recent raids by a US spy plane over its territory.

It threatened earlier this week to shoot down such aircraft.

Washington denied the accusations, saying its military patrols were in line with international law.

Security concerns on the peninsula escalated this year after North Korea tested new weapons. The country also conducted a record number of missile launches in 2022, including those capable of reaching the US mainland.

In response, the United States and South Korea have stepped up their joint military exercises around the peninsula.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s missile flew eastward from Pyongyang for more than an hour before landing in the sea west of Japan around 11:15 a.m. local time (02:15 GMT), the Japanese Coast Guard said. The high-angle flight covered a distance of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), according to the South Korean military.

South Korean and US officials met immediately after the launch Wednesday, issuing a statement reaffirming their “enhanced” joint defense.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday that the breach “needlessly increases tensions” in the region.

He added that the launch showed that the North Korean government “prioritizes weapons” over the “welfare of its people”.

South Korean President Yoon Sok-yul also convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council of Lithuania. Where he attends the NATO summit.

North Korea’s last launch was in mid-June when it fired two short-range ballistic missiles in response to US and South Korean maneuvers. The last time it tested an ICBM was in February.

ICBMs are of particular concern because of their long range, including to the mainland United States.

When Pyongyang tested one in November 2022, it launched it on a short-range trajectory at a high angle. But the Japanese government said at the time that this could have reached the US mainland if it had been launched on a lower trajectory.

Wednesday’s launch comes after days of heated rhetoric from Pyongyang warning the United States to halt its air patrols and proposing a nuclear submarine to visit Korean waters.

On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, accused a US reconnaissance plane of violating North Korean airspace. If such trips continue, she said, there will be “horrific” consequences.

Such rhetoric falls within Pyongyang’s pattern of “amplifying external threats to drum up domestic support and justify weapons tests,” said Professor Leif Eric Easley, an expert on North Korea at Iha University in Seoul.

Despite UN sanctions, Kim Jong-un has repeatedly vowed to increase his country’s production of nuclear warheads and to develop more powerful weapons.

Analysts expect the latest North Korean hardware to be shown in late July when the country celebrates the anniversary of the Korean War armistice, known in the country as Victory Day.

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