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The North responds to the nuclear maneuvers between the United States and South Korea with more missiles

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North Korea fired at least four more cruise missiles on Friday, claiming they were in response to intense US-South Korean military exercises that “could be considered a declaration of war.”

The missile tests come after the two allies conducted a tabletop exercise at the Pentagon that focused on responses to a nuclear attack by Pyongyang.

North Korean forces conducted a “strategic cruise missile firing exercise” in the early hours of Thursday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Friday, firing four “Huasal-2” aircraft.

It added that the exercises showed “North Korea’s ability to launch deadly nuclear attacks against enemy forces.”

Seoul’s defense ministry disputed that description of the test, saying there was a difference between what was announced and what US and South Korean monitoring detected. She added that the analysis was underway.

North Korea is not barred from launching cruise missiles under existing UN sanctions, but Thursday’s drills followed several weapons tests this week – including an intercontinental ballistic missile – which the UN chief described as “provocative”.

Pyongyang said the criticism was “unfair and unbalanced” and on Friday called on the world body – which met this week to discuss North Korean launches – to “strongly condemn” Seoul and Washington over their joint military exercises.

More exercises

After a year in which Pyongyang declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power and launched a record number of missiles, Seoul and Washington have moved to step up joint exercises and redeploy US strategic assets in the region.

South Korea is keen to reassure its increasingly jittery public about the US’s commitment to so-called extended deterrence, in which US assets, including nuclear weapons, serve to prevent attacks on allies.

South Korea does not possess atomic weapons and remains formally committed to nonproliferation, even as calls grow domestically to consider acquiring nuclear weapons of its own.

Washington and Seoul said in a joint statement, using North Korea’s official name, that the joint tabletop exercises included discussions on “possible options for responding to the DPRK’s use of nuclear weapons.”

The joint exercises between the United States and South Korea angered North Korea, which it considers rehearsals for invasion.

Shortly after the exercises at the Pentagon, Pyongyang issued a statement claiming that Washington’s “hostile and provocative practices … may be considered a declaration of war.”

“The only way to prevent the vicious circle of military escalation… is for the United States to show a clear and pragmatic stance, such as abandoning its commitment to deploy strategic assets” and halting joint exercises, she added.

Food shortage

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their weakest points in decades, with talks stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for a “massive” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons.

North Korea has test-fired dozens of banned missiles in 2022, putting its East Asian neighbors on edge.

Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, this week described the Pacific Ocean as the country’s “shooting range”.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Friday that North Korea should stop spending on military development when its people are starving.

The cost of the three ballistic missiles it launched this week was “enough to buy about 100,000 tons of food for about two to three million vulnerable people for five months,” Lee Hyo-jung, deputy spokesman for the ministry, told reporters.

South Korean officials recently warned that North Korea could face severe food shortages after years of isolation linked to the pandemic.

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