North Korea fires ballistic missiles ahead of Biden’s visit

North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles from an area near Pyongyang toward waters off its east coast, South Korea said, the latest in a series of volleys ahead of a planned visit to the region next week by US President Joe Biden. 

People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on May 7, 2022, after North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile according to South Korea's military.

The missiles were launched at 6:29 p.m. local time Thursday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The launch was the third volley of ballistic missiles this month and came hours after leader Kim Jong Un ordered a lockdown following the country’s first reported case of Covid-19.

The missiles flew about 360 kilometers (224 miles) and reached an altitude of 90 kilometers, South Korea’s JCS said in a statement later, adding it was still analyzing details. The launch was also detected by Japan’s defense ministry. The missiles likely touched down outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported, citing an unidentified Japanese official. 

South Korea’s presidential office, which convened a National Security Council meeting immediately after the missile launch, said in a statement that it “strongly regrets” North Korea’s hostile behavior and added it would take “stern measures” in response. 

Biden is due to meet new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on a trip that starts on May 20 to discuss on policy toward North Korea. Yoon has pledged to take a tough line with North Korea and the launch provides an early test of his government, which took office on Tuesday.

Health experts have doubted North Korea’s claims of having escaped Covid. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said its announcement Thursday of its first case may be a way for Kim to signal that his regime is willing to open a channel for humanitarian assistance with the outside world.

North Korea launched what appeared to be a medium-range ballistic missile last Thursday, followed by the firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile Saturday. Kim is on pace for his busiest year of ballistic missile launches since he took power a decade ago.

Over the past several months, Kim’s regime has tested a variety of missiles designed to evade U.S.-operated interceptors and increase the threat of a credible nuclear strike against the U.S. and its allies in Asia.

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