North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his nuclear arsenal "at the fastest possible pace" and threatened to use them against rivals. The launch, the North's 14th round of weapons fired this year, also came six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the North's capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast, per the AP. It said the South Korean military is monitoring possible additional weapons launches by North Korea.
Japan's Defense Ministry said North Korea had fired a possible ballistic missile, without providing further details. The Japanese coast guard urged vessels traveling off Japanese coasts to stay away from any possible fragments, while Japan's government set up an emergency task force to deal with the missile launch. Observers say North Korea's unusually fast pace in weapons testing this year underscores its dual goal of advancing its missile programs and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations. They say Kim eventually aims to use his expanded arsenal to win international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state, which he believes would help force the United States to relax international economic sanctions on the North.
One of the North Korean missiles tested recently was an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland. That missile's launch broke Kim's self-imposed 2018 moratorium on big weapons tests. There are signs that the North is also preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeastern testing facility. During a speech last week during a military parade in Pyongyang, Kim said he'd develop his arsenal at the "fastest possible pace" and warned that the North would preemptively use its nuclear weapons if its national interests are threatened. North Korea has previously unleased harsh rhetoric threatening to attack its rivals with its nuclear weapons. But the fact that Kim made the threat himself and in a detailed manner have caused security jitters among some South Koreans.
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