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North Korea fires suspected intercontinental ballistic missile

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SEOUL — North Korea fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington escalated further amid US efforts to strengthen coordination with its allies in Seoul and Tokyo.

Although North Korea has tested an unprecedented number of missiles this year, launching an ICBM is unusual. Friday’s event was Pyongyang’s second launch this month of a suspected ICBM capable of reaching the mainland US.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have held a series of joint military exercises to demonstrate their readiness in the event of a conflict with North Korea. Although they say the exercises are defensive in nature, leader Kim Jong-un’s regime sees them as hostile acts and uses them to justify its weapons development and nuclear program.

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The leaders of the three allied countries met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia last week and issued a joint statement outlining their plans to work more closely together, including in response to the missile launches of North Korea. They said the Pyongyang missile tests “represent a serious threat to peace and security on the Korean peninsula and beyond”.

The countries have determined that North Korea has completed preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017. After the ICBM launch in early November, a stark message from the Pentagon warned that any attack would result in “the end of the Kim Jong Un regime.”

In a statement Thursday, North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said the United States is “gambling, which it will certainly regret,” adding that the recent talks between the three countries, in addition to joint military exercises for instability and an “unpredictable phase” on the Korean peninsula. North Korea also tested a short-range ballistic missile on Thursday.

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North Korea tests its ICBMs on an elevated trajectory, which means firing them on a much higher-than-usual trajectory — almost straight up — to avoid other countries. The missiles landed in the Sea of ​​Japan, or the Baltic Sea.

The missile on Friday flew a distance of 621 miles (1,000 km) and reached an altitude of 3,728 miles (6,000 km), according to Japanese cabinet chief Hirokazu Matsuno. That’s nearly as high as a high-performance ICBM the country tested earlier this year, which reached 3,850 miles.

On Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the apparent ICBM likely fell in Japanese waters west of the northernmost island, Hokkaido, and within the country’s exclusive economic zone. No damage had been reported to ships in those waters, said Kishida, who called the launch “unacceptable.”

Min Joo Kim in Seoul and Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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