North Korea claims successful test to develop multiple warhead missile

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has successfully conducted an important test aimed at developing missiles carrying multiple warheads, state news agency KCNA said Thursday, a claim rejected by South Korea as “deception” to mask a failed launch.

North Korea said the test was carried out on Wednesday using the first-stage, solid-fuel engine of an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

The dispatch came a day after South Korea’s military said North Korea had launched what appeared to be a hypersonic missile off its east coast that exploded in midair.

KCNA said the missile succeeded in separating warheads, which were accurately guided to three preset targets, in a test that was aimed at developing multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology.

“The purpose was to secure the capability to destroy individual targets using multiple warheads,” it said.

South Korea’s military said a joint analysis by the South and the U.S. military points to the missile’s blowing up in its initial stage of flight.

“Today North Korea disclosed something, but we believe it’s simply a means of deception and exaggeration,” Lee Sung-joon, the spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a briefing.

The photos released by the North purporting to be of Wednesday’s test were also most likely fabricated or recycled pictures from a previous launch, he said.

South Korea, the United States and Japan condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a serious threat, and warned against additional provocations in the wake of last week’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Thursday, the three countries began large-scale joint military drills involving navy destroyers, fighter jets and the nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, aimed at strengthening defense against missiles, submarines and air attacks.

The “Freedom Edge” exercise was devised at the three-way summit at Camp David last year to strengthen military cooperation amid tensions on the Korean peninsula stemming from North Korea’s weapons testing.

North Korea has denounced the arrival of the carrier as a “very dangerous” show of force.

During Putin’s first visit to North Korea in 24 years, the two leaders signed a mutual defense pact, which Kim lauded as an alliance, but which South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called “anachronistic.”

In another dispatch, North Korean defense minister Kang Sun Nam condemned Ukraine’s attack on Crimea with U.S.-supplied ATACMS missiles that Russia said killed at least four people and injured 151 as an “inexcusable, heinous act against humanity.”

The attack highlighted how Washington has served as a “top-class state sponsor of terrorism,” he said.

The U.S. State Department said Monday that Washington provided weapons to Ukraine so it could defend its sovereign territory, including Crimea.

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