(CNSNews.com) – Three days after warning the United States that it has taken “the road of horrible death” by holding annual joint military exercises with South Korea, North Korea’s Stalinist regime on Monday fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.
After flying some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), according to Japan’s prime minister and chief cabinet secretary, three of the projectiles landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the fourth not far outside it.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, an EEZ is a 200 nautical mile (230 miles, 370 kms)-wide strip from a country’s shoreline. The missiles were therefore likely within a minute of reaching the northern part of Japan’s largest island of Honshu when they plunged into the sea.
The missiles had been launched near-simultaneously, and North Korea had given no prior notice, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, calling the launch “a very dangerous deed.”
South Korean security officials said they were still to use satellite data to analyze what type and range of missiles had been involved.
The latest provocation – the second of its kind since President Trump took office – came less than a week after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the North Korea crisis with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and senior U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials held a separate trilateral meeting focusing on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon and missile developments in violation of numerous U.N. Security Council sanctions.
In Seoul, acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn called for an acceleration of plans to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system.
The Obama administration last year approved deployment of the ground-based system – comprising tracking radar, vehicle-mounted launcher and interceptor missiles – by later this year. A private South Korean conglomerate recently transferred to the government a piece of land – currently a golf course – that is set to become the location of the first THAAD battery.
Last week, North Korea fumed as the U.S. and South Korea began their annual two-month Foal Eagle wargames. The regime charges that the large-scale drills are rehearsals for a strike against Pyongyang.
“Should the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces fire even a single shell into the waters where the sovereignty of our republic is exercised, the KPA will immediately launch its merciless military counter-actions,” a Korean People’s Army spokesman said in a statement carried by the regime mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun.
“The KPA will mercilessly foil the nuclear war racket of the aggressors with its treasured nuclear sword of justice,” it added.
Another regime organ, Minju Joson, said in a commentary Friday that with the opening of the joint maneuvers amounted to the “impudent aggressors” were choosing to take “the road of horrible death.”
Last month North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, while Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
At a brief, impromptu press conference, Abe called the launch “absolutely intolerable” and Trump declared that the U.S. “stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”
North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests since 2006, and test-fired dozens of missiles of varying ranges, despite being prohibited from doing so by U.N. resolutions which have imposed numerous sanctions.
The latest launch comes at a time when the regime is under increased scrutiny, over the alleged assassination of Kim Jong-un’s exiled half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, on February 13.
Kim Jong-nam died after being exposed at Kuala Lumpur international airport to VX, a deadly nerve agent allegedly by two women now under arrest in Malaysia. Malaysia at the weekend declared North Korea’s ambassador persona non-grata.
The idea that a dictator would use a lethal agent classed as a chemical weapon in a crowded public place to eliminate a potential rival prompted fresh calls to redesignate North Korea as a state-sponsor of terrorism, almost a decade after the Bush administration delisted it under then-leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s late father.
The U.S. took the step in 2008 in response to signs of progress in drawn-out talks aimed at shutting down Pyongyang’s nuclear programs, but the progress soon evaporated and there have been calls over the years since to restore the terror-sponsor designation.
“The high-profile assassination of Kim Jong-nam was not only an act of terrorism; but a chemical weapons attack inside a major international airport,” noted Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) senior policy analyst Evan Moore.
“Re-designating North Korea may not impose immediate costs on Pyongyang, but it would send the message that the new administration is preparing to exert maximal pressure on the North in order to contain its nuclear program as well as its aggression toward its southern neighbor.”
“It is long past time for Washington to do the right thing and belatedly acknowledge that North Korea’s repeated deadly acts legally constitute terrorist acts and justify returning the regime to the state sponsors of terrorism list,” agreed Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Bruce Klingner.
“Pyongyang’s brazen assassination of Kim Jong-nam using a weapon of mass destruction in a crowded airport filled with civilians should be a wake-up call as to Kim Jong-un’s true nature.”
Statutory criteria for delisting included a certification that the regime had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period; and its assurance that it would not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
Even prior to the VX attack incidents had occurred that appeared to justify redesignation. Among them:
--Two separate discoveries in 2009 – on a ship in UAE and an aircraft in Thailand – of North Korean weapons believed to be destined for Hezbollah and Hamas, both U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations.
--The 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship, at the cost of 46 sailors’ lives
--A foiled 2010 plot to assassinate the highest-ranking North Korean ever to have defected, former secretary of the ruling Workers Party, Hwang Jang-yop. Two agents from the North were imprisoned for ten years over the affair.
--The 2012 jamming by North Korea of GPS navigation signals that impacted hundreds of commercial flights as they headed to and from South Korean airports.