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N. Korea likely fired submarine-launched ballistic missile: S. Korea

People pass by a TV showing a file image of a North Korean missile launch during a news program at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- North Korea fired early Wednesday a projectile believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, South Korea's presidential office said.

    South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectile was launched at 7:11 a.m. from the sea, northeast of Wonsan in the eastern part of North Korea.

    Japan's top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said Tokyo is still analyzing the information and did not confirm it was a submarine-based missile.

    After flying about 450 kilometers and reaching an altitude of about 910 km, the projectile likely fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone off the western prefecture of Shimane, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.

    If proved correct, it would be the first projectile fired by North Korea since Sept. 10, and the 11th since May. There were no immediate reports of damage to vessels or planes in the area.

    The Japanese government said initially that two ballistic missiles were launched toward the Sea of Japan. It later clarified that one was launched, and likely crashed into the sea in two pieces.

    The missile is likely to have landed in the EEZ, some 350 km north of the Oki Islands in Shimane, at 7:27 a.m., Suga said at a press conference.

    He said the projectile followed a "lofted trajectory," suggesting it was launched at an angle to reach a high altitude.

    The landing of a North Korean missile within Japan's EEZ is the first since Nov. 29, 2017.

    Japan immediately lodged a protest with North Korea.

    "Such a ballistic missile launch is in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions and we strongly protest and condemn it," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his office.

    "We will continue to work closely with the United States and the international community, and do all we can to protect the lives of Japanese people while remaining highly vigilant," Abe said.

    Japan held a National Security Council meeting at the prime minister's office in Tokyo to analyze the firing of the missile which came a day after North Korea said it had agreed with the United States to start talks on Friday.

    Expectations have grown that the two nations will resume their stalled denuclearization negotiations, but some analysts reckon Pyongyang may be pursuing dialogue with the United States without giving up ballistic missile development.

    While Japan has condemned North Korea's repeated firings of short-range projectiles toward the Sea of Japan, U.S. President Donald Trump -- who is pursuing dialogue with Pyongyang -- has downplayed them.

    After the launch, South Korea asked Japan for information based on a military intelligence-sharing accord between the two countries, according to South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong Doo.

    South Korea has said it is scrapping the pact -- due to expire next month -- amid a bilateral feud over wartime history and export controls.

    The South Korean government also held a meeting of its National Security Council on Wednesday morning to discuss the North Korean launch.

    "Council members vowed to continue a thorough investigation into the missile in cooperation with the United States," the presidential office said in a statement.

    Following the missile launch, Shigeki Takizaki, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, held telephone talks with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, the ministry said.

    Abe has expressed a desire to hold summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, most recently in his speech at the United Nations, to break the impasse and to resolve the long-standing issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Suga said Wednesday's missile launch has not changed Tokyo's stance that Abe is seeking a face-to-face meeting with the North Korean leader "without preconditions."

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