North Korea Conducts 4th Missile Test, Still Unresponsive to South Korea Sending Messages

North Korea announced Friday that it had conducted a test-launch of an anti-aircraft missile, its fourth missile test in recent weeks since ending a six-month hiatus on the launches, the Associated Press reported.

The test came as North Korea remains unresponsive to offers from South Korea to begin restorations on phone and fax lines between the two countries that have been mostly dormant for over a year, according to Seoul's Unifications Ministry.

North Korea's lack of response contrasts with leader Kim Jong Un's messages earlier this week that he was willing to restore communication hotlines with South Korea.

At the same time, he dismissed offers from the U.S. to initiate a dialogue, calling them a "cunning" attempt to disguise American hostility toward North Korea. Kim also said that South Korea would need to forgo its "double-dealing attitude" if it wanted the relationship between the Koreas to progress, according to AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

North Korea Missile Launches Continue
North Korea said Friday that it had launched its fourth missile in recent weeks. Above, people watch a TV showing a file image of an earlier North Korean missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on September 28, 2021. Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo

South Korea, Japan and the United States typically publicly confirm North Korean ballistic missile launches, which are banned by U.N. resolutions, soon after they occur. But they did not do so for Thursday's, indicating the weapon tested may have been a different kind. Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities monitored moves by North Korea but didn't elaborate.

Three weeks ago, North Korea resumed missile tests. As it has sometimes done before, the North combined the show of force with a more conciliatory gesture, offering earlier this week to reactivate hotlines that North and South Korea use to set up meetings, arrange border crossings and avoid accidental clashes.

Diplomacy aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal in return for economic and political rewards has largely been deadlocked since early 2019. That has left North Korea under crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions, at a time when its fragile economy is suffering massive setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The North's latest moves appear aimed at pressuring South Korea, which wants to improve strained ties on the peninsula, to persuade the U.S. to relax the sanctions.

On Friday, the Korean Central News Agency said the anti-aircraft missile test was "of very practical significance in studying and developing various prospective anti-aircraft missile system."

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the launch appears to be the primitive stage of a test to develop a missile designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles and aircraft. He said the missile resembles the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which he said has a maximum range of 400 kilometers (250 miles) and is reportedly capable of intercepting stealth jets.

During the Armed Forces Day ceremony on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to repel any attempt to threaten his people's lives and would strive to achieve lasting peace. But he didn't mention North Korea's recent tests in a possible effort to keep alive the possibility of talks between the Koreas.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Thursday that Washington "certainly supports" inter-Korean dialogue in principle. But he said the U.S. was concerned about North Korea's recent launches, which he noted were in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and created "greater prospects for instability and insecurity."

U.N. resolutions ban any ballistic activity by North Korea.

Among the weapons North Korea tested in September were a new hypersonic missile, a newly developed cruise missile and a ballistic missile launched from a train. South Korea's military assessed the hypersonic missile to be at an early stage of development, but experts say the other weapons launched displayed the North's ability to attack targets in South Korea and Japan, key U.S. allies that host American troops. Earlier this week, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said its commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan "remains ironclad."

North Korea has not tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland for about four years—what experts see as an indication it is carefully calibrating its provocations to keep alive its chances for diplomacy.

Kim Jong Un Seen on News Program
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to restore stalled communication lines with South Korea to promote peace in early October, while he shrugged off recent U.S. offers for dialogue by calling them "more cunning ways" to conceal its hostility against the North, state media reported Thursday. Above, people watch a TV screen showing Kim in a news program, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on September 30, 2021. Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo