North Korea fires missile a day after threatening S. Korea and U.S. over military drills

North Korea on Saturday fired a long-range missile into the sea off Japan’s west coast, a day after threatening to take “unprecedently” strong measures against an upcoming series of military drills announced by South Korea and the United States.

Officials in Japan and South Korea said the missile was launched from Pyongyang and traveled about 560 miles, hitting a peak altitude of 3,500 miles. After flying for about 66 minutes, it landed in the Sea of Japan, about 125 miles west of Oshima island in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands.

It was the first North Korean launch since Jan. 1, when Pyongyang test-fired a short-range missile.

Saturday’s missile appears to have been fired at a high angle, likely to avoid reaching neighboring countries, officials said.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the missile appeared to have been an ICBM-class weapon, referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kishida denounced Pyongyang’s action as an “outrage” and an escalation against “the international community as a whole,” according to the Japan Times newspaper.

Japanese government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said no damage from the launch was reported, though its details were similar to the test flight of North Korea’s Hwasong-17, an ICBM that has the potential to reach the U.S. if fired on a regular trajectory, according to experts.

The South Korean military also condemned the North’s move, calling it “an act of significant provocation that harms peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula but also in the international community.”

The launch came just days before the U.S. and South Korean militaries are due to start a series of joint military exercises that are aimed at improving their response to nuclear threats from the North.

On Friday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry warned of a fierce response to the joint military drills.

“In case the U.S. and South Korea carry into practice their already announced plan for military drills that [North Korea], with just apprehension and reason, regards as preparations for an aggression war, they will face unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions,” the ministry said.

Saturday’s launch didn’t pose immediate threats to the U.S. or its allies, according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. However, the White House National Security Council said it needlessly raised tensions in an already volatile area, slamming the launch as a “flagrant violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

“It only demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” the council said.

With News Wire Services