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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok, Russia, in 2019. Photo: Yuri Smityuk/TASS via Getty Images

North Korea fired "two ballistic missiles" into the sea from off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea's military said, per Yonhap news agency.

Why it matters: The launch further escalates tensions in the region, two days after Pyongyang claimed to have fired new long-range cruise missiles that it described as "a strategic weapon of great significance."

What's happening: The offices of Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said they were convening sessions of their national security councils to discuss Pyongyang's actions.

  • South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in its statement that it had raised its level of surveillance following the launch and was analyzing additional details in partnership with the U.S., as its military "maintains a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the U.S."
  • The U.S. military's Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that it's "aware of the missile launch and are consulting closely with our allies."
  • South Korea also said Wednesday that it successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile within hours of North Korea's launch, AP reported.

The big picture: North Korea appears to be stepping up its missiles program as nuclear disarmament negotiations with the U.S. that broke down in 2019 continue to stall.

  • The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency noted last month that North Korea appeared to have resumed operations at a key nuclear reactor that's believed to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

What to watch: Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy for North Korea, said Tuesday that the U.S. had "no hostile intent toward Pyongyang and hopes it responds positively to offers for talks" on its weapons programs, Reuters notes.

  • The envoy was scheduled to meet with his Japanese counterpart for talks on Wednesday.
  • The foreign ministers of South Korea and China were meeting in Seoul on Wednesday following North Korea announcing that it had launched cruise missiles over the weekend, per Reuters.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

22 hours ago - World

Australia to acquire nuclear submarines in historic security pact with U.S., U.K.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and U.K. will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a historic trilateral security partnership announced Wednesday afternoon by the leaders of the three countries.

Why it matters: The partnership, known as AUKUS, is a major strategic pact that will bind the U.S. and U.K. to Australia's security for generations — and a warning to China as the Biden administration continues to lay the groundwork for countering Beijing in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
20 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The danger of "sole authority" on nuclear weapons

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New reporting around the chaotic final stages of President Trump's tenure underscores essential problems with the U.S. nuclear command-and-control system.

Why it matters: One person possesses the authority to launch America's massive nuclear arsenal and quite possibly end the world: the president. And there's no clear, legal way to circumvent that authority if they can't be trusted.

11 hours ago - World

U.S. raises ire of China and France with new global pact

President Biden at the White House during a virtual event Wednesday with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

China's D.C. embassy said Thursday in response to a new security pact between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia that the countries should "shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice," per the Australian Associated Press.

Why it matters: The AUKUS partnership is a warning to China's government as the Biden administration moves to counter Beijing in the Indo-Pacific. It's also raised the ire of the French government, after the countries revealed the U.S. and U.K. would help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

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