(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with U.S. military's statement; CHANGES headline; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired a second ballistic missile into the East Sea in less than a week Tuesday, according to the U.S. military, which views it as demonstrating the destabilizing impact of the secretive nation's "illicit" weapons program.
"We are aware of the ballistic missile launch and are consulting closely with our allies and partners," the Indo-Pacific Command said.
The missile launch "highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK's illicit weapons program," although it did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, it added, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The statement came several hours after an announcement by South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) that it detected the launch from an inland area at 7:27 a.m. It did not provide details.
"For additional information, the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are in the process of conducting a detailed analysis," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
The South Korean military in cooperation with the U.S. is closely monitoring North Korean military movements and maintaining a firm readiness posture, the JCS said.
The North is thought to have fired the latest missile from its northern province of Jagang bordering China, an informed source said.
Jagang Province is where the North tested its self-proclaimed hypersonic missile on Wednesday last week and another such advanced missile in September last year.
Seoul officials have dismissed the North's hypersonic missile claims as "exaggerated," saying it has yet to secure technologies for the high-tech flight vehicle.
The presidential National Security Council convened an emergency meeting and expressed "strong regret."
The latest launch came as the UN Security Council convened a closed-door session on Pyongyang's launch of the missile last week.
Shortly before the session, the U.S. and five other countries issued a joint statement calling on the North to refrain from "destabilizing" actions, abandon its ballistic missile programs and engage in "meaningful" dialogue toward denuclearization.
Commenting on the six countries' joint statement about last week's North Korean missile launch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it shares their concerns and stressed the importance of dialogue.
South Korea, meanwhile, voiced regret over another missile launch by the North and called on it to return to the dialogue table.
The Ministry of Unification reiterated improving inter-Korean relations to an "irrevocable level" is crucial to fundamentally resolve concerns stemming from such missile launches.
"North Korea should choose cooperation for peace over acts that go against efforts to build peace on the Korean Peninsula, such as the latest missile launches, at this critical moment to stabilize the political situation surrounding the peninsula," a unification ministry official told reporters.
Pyongyang's latest saber-rattling came as the North unveiled its ambitious push to develop an array of new, formidable weapons during the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party a year ago.
During the congress, the North catalogued "important strategic tasks," such as developing tactical nuclear weapons, a hypersonic gliding flight warhead, a nuclear-powered submarine and a reconnaissance satellite, according to its state media.
At the close of the ruling party's Central Committee plenary late last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un redoubled calls to bolster defense capabilities "without a moment's delay," pointing to unstable international security conditions.
"(The latest launches) are an expression of the North's resolve to forge ahead with the missile activities in line with an institutionalized defense plan irrespective of the external environment," Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University, said.
The North's missile launch handed yet another dispiriting setback to the South's steadfast drive to resume nuclear diplomacy with the recalcitrant regime.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since the no-deal Hanoi summit between the two countries in February 2019.
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