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North Korea test-fires ‘strategic’ long-range cruise missile as arms race intensify

North Korea says it has carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, as the country continues to expand its military capabilities amid stalled nuclear talks with the United States

The Korean Central News Agency said on Monday the cruise missiles, which had been under development for two years, successfully hit targets 1,500km (930 miles) away on Saturday and Sunday before falling into North Korean territorial waters.

The North hailed the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance” that meets leader Kim Jong Un’s call to strengthen the country’s military might.

Pyongyang’s last known missile test was in March when it launched a new tactical short-range ballistic missile. It also conducted a cruise missile test just hours after US President Joe Biden took office in late January.

“This would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be explicitly designated a ‘strategic’ role,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is a common euphemism for nuclear-capable system.”

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Tokyo was “concerned” over reports of the test and that it would work closely with the US and South Korea to monitor the situation.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the test “highlights North Korea’s continuing focus on developing its military programme and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community”. It stressed that US commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan was “ironclad”.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said an in-depth analysis was under way in close cooperation with US intelligence but declined to confirm details, Yonhap news agency reported.

The test is the latest sign of how North Korea has continued to expand its weapons capabilities since talks with the US to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes stalled in 2019. United Nations sanctions ban it from using ballistic missile technology, although not cruise missiles, which fly at a lower altitude over shorter distances.

Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, ran photos of the new long-range cruise missile in the air and being fired from a transporter-erector-launcher.

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