North Korea fires railway-borne missile in firing drill

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North Korea fires railway-borne missile in firing drill

North Korea fired a railway-borne missile in its firing drills on Friday, state media said on Saturday, amid a U.S. push for fresh sanctions against the isolated state after its recent series of weapons tests.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles SRBMs travelled about 267 miles to a maximum altitude of 22 miles after being launched eastward on the northwest coast of North Korea.

The official KCNA news agency did not specify the missiles' range, or trajectory, but said a firing drill was held in North Pyongan Province to check and judge the proficiency in the action procedures of the railway-borne regiment. The country tested the rail-based system for the first time last September, saying it was designed as a potential counter-strike to any threatening forces.

North Korea has launched three ballistic missiles in an unusually fast sequence of weapons tests since New Year's Day. The previous two launches involved what state media called hypersonic missiles capable of high speeds and manoeuvring after launch.

Hours before the latest test drill, North Korea slammed the United States for pursuing new sanctions in response to its recent missile launches, calling it a provocation and warning of a strong reaction.

President Joe Biden's administration imposed its first sanctions against Pyongyang on Wednesday and called for the UN Security Council to blacklist several North Korean individuals and entities.

North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defence and accused the United States of intentionally escalating the situation with new sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend the drill. KCNA said the military leadership had ordered the test at short notice and the system precisely struck the target set in the east coast with two tactical guided missiles. The system demonstrated high manoeuvrability and rate of hits, KCNA said, leading to discussions to set up a proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country. North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems, raising the stakes for stalled talks that aim to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.

South Korean Chung Eui-yong and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the latest launch during a phone call on Saturday and coordinated responses to the North's recent missile tests, the State Department said.

Both sides stressed the importance of a firm combined readiness posture and urged Pyongyang to return to a negotiating table, Seoul's foreign ministry said.