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North Korea continues weapon tests as it accuses US of hostility

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Picture by Alexander Khitrov, AP Photo
Kim Tong-Hyung, Associated Press

North Korea has fired another suspected ballistic missile into the sea as it continued its recent streak of weapon tests, Seoul and Tokyo officials said.

It comes as the country accused the United States of hostility and demanded the Biden administration permanently end joint military exercises with South Korea.

North Korean ambassador Kim Song’s comments on the last day of the UN General Assembly came shortly after South Korea’s military said the North fired an unidentified projectile into its eastern waters.

The North’s latest test, which followed two previous rounds of missile tests this month, indicated the country is returning to its tried-and-true technique of mixing weapons demonstrations and peace offers to wrest concessions amid long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately say what the North launched in its latest test, which took place early on Tuesday on the Korean Peninsula, or how far the weapon flew.

Speaking through a translator, Mr Kim justified North Korea’s development of a “war deterrent” as a necessity to defend against US threats, and also accused South Korea of betraying inter-Korean peace agreements by prioritising its Western ally over “national harmony”.

He demanded that the US “permanently” stop its military exercises with South Korea, which the North has traditionally described as invasion rehearsals, and end the deployment of US strategic weapons to the Korean Peninsula.

“The possible outbreak of a new war on the Korean Peninsula is contained not because of the US’s mercy on the DPRK, it is because our state is growing a reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces in an attempted military invasion,” Mr Kim said, referring to North Korea by the abbreviation of its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He called for the US to contribute to the peace and stability of the peninsula and the world by withdrawing an “anachronistic, hostile policy towards the DPRK in a bold and complete manner”.

He added: “If (the US) is really desirous of peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, they should take the first step towards giving up its hostile policy against the DPRK by stopping permanently the joint military exercises and the deployment of all kinds of strategic weapons which are levelled at the DPRK in and around the Korean Peninsula.”

The US keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea. The allies say their drills are defensive in nature, but they have cancelled or downsized them in recent years to create space for diplomacy or in pandemic response.

North Korea’s nuclear program has seemed to recede in attention at this year’s General Assembly in the face of new and broader challenges like Covid-19 and rising US-China tensions, and the meeting ended without meaningful new proposals to break the diplomatic stalemate.

But after months of relative quiet, the country this month tested new cruise missiles it eventually plans to arm with nuclear warheads and launched ballistic missiles from a train. It then offered to improve relations with South Korea if certain conditions are met.

Analysts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is using the South’s desire for inter-Korean engagement to pressure Seoul to extract concessions from the Biden administration on his behalf as he renews an attempt to leverage his nuclear weapons for badly needed economic and security benefits.

In their speeches at the General Assembly last week, both President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed hopes to diplomatically resolve the standoff with North Korea while sidestepping the fresh tensions created by the North’s latest tests.

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