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North Korea launches suspected ballistic missile in 7th test in just one month, possibly longest since 2017

SeoulNorth Korea on Sunday fired what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested since US President Joe Biden took office, as it revives its old playbook in brinkmanship to wrest concessions from Washington and neighbours amid a prolonged stalemate in diplomacy.

Japanese officials said the missile, based on their initial assessment of its flight path, potentially reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) and travelled 800 kilometers (497 miles) before landing in the sea.

The flight details suggest the North tested its longest-range ballistic missile since 2017, when it flight-tested three intercontinental range ballistic missiles that demonstrated the potential range to reach deep into the American homeland.

Sunday's test was the North's 7th round of weapons launches this month. The unusually fast pace of tests indicate an intent to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled nuclear negotiations.

The launch came three days after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday.

The North also flight-tested a pair of purported long-range cruise missiles on Tuesday while vowing to strengthen its nuclear "war deterrent" and build more powerful weapons.

North Korea has been ramping up its testing activity in recent months, including seven rounds of weapons launches so far in 2022, demonstrating its military might amid pandemic-related difficulties and a prolonged freeze in nuclear diplomacy with the United States.

While aggressively expanding his military capabilities despite limited resources, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is also reviving Pyongyang's old playbook of brinkmanship to wrest concessions from Washington, which leads international sanctions over the North's nuclear program.

Experts say the North could halt its testing spree after the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics next week out of respect for China, its major ally and economic lifeline.

But there's also expectation that the North could significantly up the ante in weapons demonstrations once the Olympics end in February to grab the attention of the Biden administration, which has been focusing more on confronting China and Russia over its conflict with Ukraine.

In a ruling party meeting chaired by Kim on January 20, senior party members made a veiled threat to resume testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland, which Kim suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with the United States.

Kim's summitry with then-President Donald Trump derailed in 2019 after the Americans rejected North Korea's demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

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