North Korea’s state-run media reported that the communist country tested a new type of nuclear-capable guided weapon on Saturday, April 16. On Sunday its main rivals, the United States and South Korea, begin annual drills that North Korea sees as an invasion rehearsal, according to the Associated Press.

Pyongyang’s 13th launch of 2022, which leader Kim Jong-un attended, generates uncertainty and tension amid fears that the North Korean leader will approve the launching of nuclear missiles. 

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the tested missile has significance for improving “efficiency in the operation of (North Korea’s) tactical nuclear weapons and diversification of its firepower missions.”

North Korea began this year with a series of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States since 2017. 

“North Korea has a domestic imperative to make and perfect weapons ordered by Kim Jong Un last year regardless of what the U.S. does or doesn’t do. The test also tells his people that their country is strong despite their apparent economic difficulties,” said Duyeon Kim, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

“One reason for the political timing could be to protest anticipated U.S.–South Korea military drills,” Duyeon added.

U.S. diplomat Sung Kim, who is currently in Seoul for a five-day visit, and his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, condemned the tests and pledged the “strongest possible joint deterrent,” according to Reuters. 

Kim also said the allies “will respond responsibly and decisively to provocative behaviour,” while reiterating that the U.S. has an open door to resume stalled denuclearization talks.

The annual nine-day Seoul-Washington joint military exercises begin Monday and consist of “defensive command post training using computer simulation” and do not involve troops in field maneuvers, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

It also said in a statement that it had detected two launches from the city of Hamhung, on North Korea’s east coast, early Saturday morning. The missiles flew about 110 kilometers (68 miles) at an altitude of 25 kilometers (16 miles). 

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