North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, in Seoul on Wednesday, just days before Washington and Pyongyang were set to resume long-stalled nuclear talks.
Pyongyang frequently couples diplomatic overtures with military moves, as a way of maintaining pressure on negotiating partners, analysts say, and may believe this weapons system gives it added leverage.
The United States voiced alarm, with a State Department spokesperson calling on North Korea “to refrain from provocations” and “remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations” aimed at bringing stability and denuclearisation.
A proven submarine-based missile capability would take the North’s arsenal to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a second-strike capability in the event of an attack on its military bases.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected a ballistic missile early Wednesday fired in an easterly direction from the sea, northeast of the North Korean port of Wonsan.
The missile was “believed to be one of the Pukkuksong models”, the JCS said in a statement, referring to a line of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) under development by the North.
Launches like this “are not helpful to efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and we urge North Korea again to stop immediately,” it added.
The North carried out a successful test of the solid-fuel Pukkuksong-1, also known as KN-11, in August 2016 which flew around 500 kilometres.
In July, North Korean state media had published pictures of Kim Jong Un inspecting a new type of submarine, fuelling concerns that Pyongyang was pushing ahead with an SLBM programme.