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North Korea expands missile capacity in new tests

The latest missile tests by North Korea represent progress in the regime's military capabilities. The tests drew ire from nations set to sit across from North Korea at an informal diplomatic gathering in Beijing.

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North Korea test fires two powerful, mid-range missiles

North Korea's latest missile launches were conducted in the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry and the US Department of State.

The tests are believed to be of medium-range Musudan missiles. The range of Musudan missiles is estimated to be between 2,500 to 4,000 kilometers (1,500 - 2,500 miles), but North Korea's missiles traveled far shorter distances. The first missile fell apart after traveling around 150 kilometers, but the second missile made it 400 kilometers. The theoretical range would mean a fully-operational missile would be able to strike South Korea, Japan and US military institutions on Guam.

Threat of further sanctions

While the missiles did not travel close to their maximum range, the launches represent significant progress for North Korea's ballistic missile program and their potential capability to conduct a nuclear missile launch. Four previous attempts to launch this kind of missile failed.

The UN Security Council has measures in place prohibiting North Korea from conducting such tests.

"We intend to raise our concerns at the UN to bolster international resolve in holding (North Korea) accountable for these provocative actions," said US State Department spokesperson John Kirby.

Japanese media quoted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as saying the tests "cannot be tolerated," and South Korean officials are warning of tougher sanctions against North Korea, who had recently expressed willingness to hold military talks with their southern neighbors.

Informal gathering

The missile tests come on the same day as a meeting in Beijing that will bring together diplomats from North Korea, the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

The same countries formed the core group pushing for North Korean nuclear disarmament in talks that stalled in 2008.

Wednesday's meeting in Beijing carries relatively low expectations. It is unlikely the US and North Korean diplomats will engage in any direct talks, and the entire summit is being held behind closed doors. The annual event, called the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, is put on by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego, which calls the meeting a "regular channel of informal communication among the six governments."

mz/kms (AP, AFP)

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