North Korea Reports Test of New Cruise Missile as Arms Race Intensifies

SEOUL — North Korea said on Monday it​ had successfully launched newly developed long-range cruise missiles, its first missile test in six months and a new indication that an arms race between North and South Korea was heating up on the Korean Peninsula.

​In the tests that took place on Saturday and Sunday, the North Korean missiles hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away after flying more than two hours, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. The missiles changed their trajectories and made circles before hitting their targets, it said.

A series of resolutions from the United Nations Security Council banned North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles, but not cruise missiles. A cruise missile test by the North usually does not raise as much alarm as its ballistic missile tests. The country’s state-run media also indicated that the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had not attended the weekend tests, though he has usually supervised all major weapons tests in recent years.

The latest tests showed that North Korea continued to improve its arsenal of missiles while nuclear disarmament talks with the United States remained stalled. North Korea said on Monday that the long-range cruise missile was “a strategic weapon of great significance” and part of an arms development goal announced by Mr. Kim during the party congress in January.

ramping up its own arms buildup.

Dosan Ahn Changho-class attack submarine. North Korea began testing its submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 2015, reporting the “greatest success” the following year.

As international negotiations have made little progress in stopping North Korea from growing its weapons arsenal, South Korea has embarked on building more powerful missiles and missile-defense systems of its own to counter North Korean threats.

launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, Donald J. Trump, then president, lifted the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. During the summit meeting in May between President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, the allies agreed to terminate the missile guidelines, leaving South Korea free to develop longer-range missiles.

North Korea reacted angrily to the removal of the missile restrictions, ​calling it “a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy.”

The removal of the limits allows South Korea to build ballistic missiles with larger warheads that hold destructive power and that can target underground bunkers where North Korea keeps its nuclear arsenal and where its leadership would hide at war, military analysts said.

When Mr. Moon visited his Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world,” an apparent reference to the Hyunmoo-4, which missile experts say can cover all of North Korea with a two-ton payload.

When North Korea last conducted a missile test, on March 25, it said it had launched a new ballistic missile that carried a 2.5-ton warhead. This month, reports emerged in South Korean news media that the South was developing an even more powerful weapon: a short-range ballistic missile with a payload of up to three tons.

The tit-for-tat weapons buildup signaled that the rival militaries were arming themselves with increasingly powerful missiles that can fly farther and carry more destructive power, and that are harder to intercept.

said this month.

last October and in January, North Korea unveiled what appeared to be newly developed intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said last month that the country appeared to have restarted a reactor in its main nuclear complex​.

But North Korea has refrained from​ testing an I.C.B.M. or a nuclear device since 2017. Its most recent military parade, held Thursday to mark the government’s 73rd anniversary, did not feature new weapons.

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A Quiet Arms Race Is Rapidly Heating Up Between the Two Koreas

SEOUL — Pride and jealousy have driven North and South Korea to engage in propaganda shouting matches and compete over who could build a taller flagpole on their border. Now that one-upmanship is intensifying a much more dangerous side of their rivalry: the arms race.

Earlier this month, South Korea’s dream of building its own supersonic fighter jet was realized when it unveiled the KF-21, developed at a cost of $7.8 billion. The country also recently revealed plans to acquire dozens of new American combat helicopters. When President Moon Jae-in visited the Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world.”

Unlike North Korea, the South lacks nuclear weapons. But in recent years the country has revved up its military spending, procuring American stealth jets and building increasingly powerful conventional missiles capable of targeting North Korean missile facilities and war bunkers.

Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research group.

The two Koreas have long been locked in a perpetual arms race. But Pyongyang’s growing nuclear capabilities, coupled with the fear of a withdrawal of American troops from South Korea under President Donald J. Trump, added to those tensions.

While in office, Mr. Moon has increased South Korea’s annual military spending by an average of 7 percent, compared with the 4.1 percent average of his predecessor. After diplomacy failed to eliminate the North’s nuclear arsenal, Mr. Moon had to reassure South Koreans that their country was not a “sitting duck,” said Yoon Suk-joon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs.

Soon after Mr. Moon’s visit to the Agency for Defense Development, South Korean media reported that the weapon he referred to was the Hyunmoo-4, a missile tested last year. According to missile experts, the Hyunmoo-4 can fly 497 miles, enough to target all of North Korea. Its two-ton payload — unusually large for a short-range missile — could destroy the North’s underground missile bases.

launched a new ballistic missile of its own and said the weapon flew 372 miles with a 2.5-ton warhead. The test prompted Mr. Moon to claim the following day that South Korea had “world-class missile capabilities, enough to defend ourselves while abiding by our commitment to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”

attacked a South Korean island with a rocket barrage in 2010, South Korea demanded that Washington ease the restrictions so it could build more powerful missiles.

“We hinted that we might scrap the missile guidelines unilaterally,” said Chun Yung-woo, the national security adviser at the time. “We told the Americans that if we didn’t address concern over the North’s growing nuclear and missile threat, more and more South Koreans would call for building nuclear bombs for ourselves.”

In 2012, Washington agreed to let South Korea deploy ballistic missiles with a range of up to 497 miles as long as it abided by the 1,100-pound warhead limit. It also said South Korea could exceed the payload limit by several times on missiles with shorter ranges.

South Korea has since tested missiles with growing ranges and bigger warheads, including the Hyunmoo-2A, Hyunmoo-2B and Hyunmoo-2C. Once North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, Mr. Trump lifted the payload limit entirely, making way for the Hyunmoo-4.

short-range nuclear missiles aimed at South Korea and vowed to improve them by making the warheads “smaller, lighter and tactical.” South Korea’s strategy of deterrence has been based on the belief that the best chance it has against the North without nuclear weapons of its own is to build up a conventional missile defense and deploy ever more powerful “bunker busters” to make Mr. Kim fear for his life.

When North Korea tested its intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, the United States and South Korea responded by launching their own ballistic missiles to demonstrate their “deep-strike precision” capabilities. In his book “Rage,” the journalist Bob Woodward wrote that the American missile traveled the exact distance between its launching point and the location from which Mr. Kim watched his I.C.B.M. launch.

collapsed, North Korea resumed tests in 2019, rolling out three short-range ballistic missiles that were designed to counter the allies’ antimissile capabilities.

North Korea’s old fleet of Scud and Rodong missiles used liquid fuel and lacked precision. The country’s new generation of missiles uses solid propellants, making them quicker to launch, easier to transport and more difficult to target. They also have greater accuracy and evasive maneuvering power that could confound the South’s missile defense systems.

The new solid-fuel ballistic missile North Korea tested in March likely evaded the allies’ radar during its low-altitude maneuvering, leading the South Korean military to estimate its range at 280 miles, not the 372 miles the North claimed, said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University. Mr. Chang said the missile could also likely increase range and warhead weight because it was powered by “the largest solid-fuel rocket motor developed and tested in North Korea so far.”

The North’s ICBMs still use liquid fuel, which takes hours to load before launching, making them vulnerable to American pre-emptive strikes. But in his January speech, Mr. Kim vowed to build solid-fuel ICBMs, presenting an even bigger challenge for American missile defenses. Such prospects deepen the fear among some South Koreans that Washington would be less likely to intervene if it, too, faced a possible North Korean nuclear attack.

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North Korea’s Arsenal Has Grown Rapidly. Here’s What’s in It.

SEOUL — North Korea test-launched what it called a newly developed tactical guided missile ​on Thursday, violating international sanctions.

It was the country’s first ballistic missile test in a year and its first provocation to the Biden administration, prompting the​ American president to warn that there will be “responses” if North Korea continues to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The United States has tried both sanctions and dialogue to persuade North Korea to ​give up its ​nuclear ​weapons programs.

Neither has worked.

Instead, North Korea​ has rapidly expanded its nuclear program and modernized its missile fleet under Kim Jong-un, the country’s young leader. The expansion of the arsenal is a growing threat to the United States and allies​ in the region. ​Here’s what’s in it.

last and most powerful nuclear test was conducted in September 2017, when North Korea claimed to have detonated ​a thermonuclear​, or hydrogen, bomb. ​Estimates of the device’s explosive power ranged from 50 to 300 kilotons.

Arms Control Association.

Although the world is preoccupied with the North’s nuclear weapons, the country has also stockpiled thousands of tons of chemical and biological​ weapons​ ​agents​ that it can deliver with its missiles​​. When Mr. Kim’s estranged half brother, Kim Jong-nam, was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, North Korea ​used the internationally banned VX nerve agent in the operation.

In 2017, North Korea made big strides in its weapons capabilities.

That year, the country fired its intermediate-range ballistic missile, Hwasong-12, over Japan and threatened an “enveloping” strike around the American territory of Guam. It also test-fired Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

By the end of the year, Mr. Kim claimed that his country had the ability to launch a nuclear strike against the continental United States.

threatened to end his moratorium when talks with President Donald J. Trump collapsed in 2019.

During a nighttime military parade last October, North Korea displayed a new, untested I.C.B.M. that looked bigger than any of the previous ones.

party congress in January, Mr. Kim doubled down on his nuclear arms buildup, offering a laundry list of weapons he said he planned to develop. They included “multi-warhead” nuclear missiles, “hypersonic” missiles, land- and submarine-launched I.C.B.M.s that use solid fuel, and “ultramodern tactical nuclear weapons.”

Whether North Korea has mastered the technology needed to send an intercontinental nuclear warhead into space and then guide it back through the earth’s atmosphere to its target is still unclear. North Korea has yet to demonstrate that its warhead can survive the intense heat and friction created by re-entry.

When North Korea resumed missile tests in 2019 following the collapse of the Kim-Trump talks, the tests featured three new weapons, code-named KN-23, KN-24 and KN-25 by outside experts.

They each marked big advances in North Korea’s short-range ballistic missile program.

Unlike its older missiles that used liquid fuel, all three of the new missiles used solid fuel. The new solid-fuel weapons, mounted on mobile launchers, are easier to transport and hide and take less time to prepare. And at least two of them, KN-23 and KN-24, could perform low-altitude maneuvers, making them harder to intercept.

At a military parade earlier this year, North Korea displayed what looked like a bigger, upgraded version of KN-23. Photos released by the North Korean media indicate that was the weapon tested on Thursday.

The new missile was developed to be larger than KN-23 in order to carry a bigger warhead and more fuel.

Pukguksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles since 2015.

During the military parades held in October and earlier this year, North Korea displayed what looked like two upgraded versions of its Pukguksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The country currently has only one submarine that can launch a ballistic missile, but says it is building a new one with greater capabilities.

North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world, with more than one million soldiers. But much of its equipment is old and obsolete, and the military lacks fuel and spare parts.

North Korea has sought to make up for its shortcomings by building nuclear weapons.

Mr. Kim justifies his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea by saying that the nuclear arsenal his government has built was a “treasure sword” keeping North Koreans safe from foreign invasion. He tells his people that they are under the constant threat of an American attack.

At the January party congress, Mr. Kim said that his weapons program “never precludes diplomacy” but “guarantees its success.” He has also said he no longer holds any expectations for dialogue unless Washington makes an offer that satisfies his government.

The test this week reflected Mr. Kim’s determination, analysts said.

It showed that “North Korea was pushing ahead with the plans” set down by Mr. Kim during the party meeting, said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “As it had stated before, North Korea had no intention of moving first to offer a concession or make a proposal.”

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Israel’s Shadow War With Iran Moves Out to Sea

JERUSALEM — The sun was rising on the Mediterranean one recent morning when the crew of an Iranian cargo ship heard an explosion. The ship, the Shahr e Kord, was about 50 miles off the coast of Israel, and from the bridge they saw a plume of smoke rising from one of the hundreds of containers stacked on deck.

The state-run Iranian shipping company said the vessel had been heading to Spain and called the explosion a “terrorist act.”

But the attack on the Shahr e Kord this month was just one of the latest salvos in a long-running covert conflict between Israel and Iran. An Israeli official said the attack was retaliation for an Iranian assault on an Israeli cargo ship last month.

Since 2019, Israel has been attacking ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas, opening a new maritime front in a regional shadow war that had previously played out by land and in the air.

Iranian efforts to circumvent American sanctions on its oil industry.

But the conflict’s expansion risks the escalation of what has been a relatively limited tit-for-tat, and it further complicates efforts by the Biden administration to persuade Iran to reintroduce limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

“This is a full-fledged cold war that risks turning hot with a single mistake,” said Ali Vaez, Iran program director at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization. “We’re still in an escalatory spiral that risks getting out of control.”

Since 2019, Israeli commandos have attacked at least 10 ships carrying Iranian cargo, according to an American official and a former senior Israeli official. The real number of targeted ships may be higher than 20, according to an Iranian Oil Ministry official, an adviser to the ministry and an oil trader.

first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Most of the ships were carrying fuel from Iran to its ally Syria, and two carried military equipment, according to an American official and two senior Israeli officials. An American official and an Israeli official said the Shahr e Kord was carrying military equipment toward Syria.

The Israeli government declined to comment.

has accelerated in recent years. Iran has been arming and financing militias throughout the region, notably in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon, where it supports Hezbollah, a Shiite militia and political movement that is a longtime enemy of Israel.

Israel has tried to counter Iran’s power play by launching regular airstrikes on Iranian shipments by land and air of arms and other cargo to Syria and Lebanon. Those attacks have made those routes riskier and shifted at least some of the weapons transit, and the conflict, to the sea, analysts said.

Israel has also sought to undermine Iran’s nuclear program through assassinations and sabotage on Iranian soil, and both sides are accused of cyberattacks, including a failed Iranian attack on an Israeli municipal water system last April and a retaliatory Israeli strike on a major Iranian port.

Iran’s Quds force was blamed for a bomb that exploded near Israel’s embassy in New Delhi in January. And 15 militants linked to Iran were arrested last month in Ethiopia for plotting to attack Israeli, American and Emirati targets.

The sum is an undeclared conflict that neither side wants to escalate into frontal combat.

a major Iranian nuclear site in July and the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last November. Israel has not publicly acknowledged either operation.

The Israeli offensive against Iranian shipping has two goals, analysts and officials said. The first is to prevent Tehran from sending equipment to Lebanon to help Hezbollah build a precision missile program, which Israel considers a strategic threat.

The second is to dry up an important source of oil revenue for Tehran, building on the pressure American sanctions have inflicted. After the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel industry in late 2018, the Iranian government became more reliant on clandestine shipping.

Sima Shine, a former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

The attacks typically feature limpet mines and sometimes torpedoes, the American official said. They generally target the ships’ engines or propellers, one Israeli official said. And they are intended to cripple but not sink the ships, the American and Israeli officials said.

a recent oil spill that left tons of tar on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon.

Within Israel, there is concern among maritime experts that the cost of a sea war may exceed its benefit.

While the Israeli Navy can make its presence felt in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, it is less effective in waters closer to Iran. And that could make Israeli-owned ships more vulnerable to Iranian attacks as they pass Iran’s western shores on their way to ports in the Gulf, said Shaul Chorev, a retired Israeli admiral who now heads the Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center at the University of Haifa.

“Israeli strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and related waterways will undoubtedly grow,” he wrote in a statement, “and the Israeli Navy does not have the capabilities to protect these interests.”

Patrick Kingsley reported from Jerusalem, Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, Farnaz Fassihi from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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North Korea Fired 2 Ballistic Missiles, U.S. and Japan Say

SEOUL — North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday, in its first significant provocation against the United States under President Biden, United States and Japanese officials said.

South Korea confirmed North Korea had launched two unidentified projectiles, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan was the first regional leader to identify them as “ballistic missiles.” A senior United States official also confirmed that the projectiles were ballistic missiles.

“It threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region, and is a violation of United Nations resolutions,” the Japanese leader said on Twitter, referring to the United Nations Security Council’s ban on the North’s developing and testing ballistic missile technologies. “I strongly protest and strongly condemn it.”

The missiles dropped into waters between North Korea and Japan and outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Mr. Suga said. The Japanese military said that the missiles flew 280 miles, reaching a height of 62 miles.

past four U.S. presidents. Each approached the country with different incentives and sanctions, but all failed to persuade it to stop building nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.

fired missiles over Japan and threatened to launch an “enveloping” strike near the U.S. territory of Guam.

After the country launched its first intercontinental ballistic missiles later that year, former President Donald J. Trump hoped direct talks with Mr. Kim would persuade the impoverished and isolated country to end its program.

Despite three face-to-face meetings, the leaders were unable to reach an agreement, depriving Mr. Trump of what he had hoped would be a crowning foreign policy achievement. Instead, the failed summits gave Mr. Kim more time to further develop his weapons, experts say.

Analysts are closely watching Washington to see if Mr. Biden’s approach to North Korea will follow that of former President Barack Obama, rather than the more direct engagement of Mr. Trump.

The Biden administration has been studying how to deal with North Korea, which Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has called “a hard problem.” When Mr. Blinken was in Seoul last week, he said the Biden administration planned to complete a North Korea policy review in the coming weeks in close coordination with South Korea and Japan. He said the review included both “pressure options and potential for future diplomacy.”

During the first months of his presidency, Mr. Obama was also greeted by a North Korean provocation when the country detonated a nuclear bomb. Rather than negotiate, Mr. Obama opted for a policy of “strategic patience,” which meant gradually escalating sanctions. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Blinken said the Biden administration would “review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem.”

In the weekend test, missiles were launched from a site near Nampo, a port southwest of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, said Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by intelligence officials on Wednesday.

it unveiled a new, untested intercontinental ballistic missile that looked bigger and more powerful than the intercontinental ballistic missile it tested in late 2017 before Mr. Kim started diplomacy with Mr. Trump.

In a party meeting in January, Mr. Kim vowed to further advance his country’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that it would build new solid-fuel I.C.B.M.s and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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North Korea Launches Missile Test as Tensions Rise With U.S.

SEOUL — North Korea test-fired two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed Wednesday, adding to a series of provocations and statements in recent weeks that experts say are warnings to Washington.

The test took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula with their annual military drills. It did not violate United Nations resolutions, which ban North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies. It did, however, mark the country’s first missile test since President Biden took office in January.

When North Korea launches missile tests, they are usually celebrated through state media and quickly confirmed by the South Korean military. ​But North Korean media has not reported on Sunday’s test. South Korean officials​ said Wednesday that they had​ detected the test when it occurred, but decided not to immediately report on it. They did not elaborate on their decision.

South Korean defense officials tend to consider short-range cruise missile tests less of a provocation than ballistic launches. They also tend not to highlight what they consider minor provocations from the North when trying to promote inter-Korean dialogue. Sill, when North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast in April last year, they were promptly confirmed by South Korea. ​In this case, South Korean officials only confirmed the test after it was first reported by The Washington Post.

extradite the North Korean businessman, who is set to face trial in an American court on charges of money laundering and violating international sanctions. North Korea accused Washington of being a “backstage manipulator” in the case, and warned that it would “pay a due price.”

It also said​ that it felt no need to respond to recent attempts by the Biden administration to establish dialogue, dismissing them as a “delaying-time trick.”

As Washington strengthens its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul​, Mr. Kim and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, have vowed to bring their two communist countries closer together.

In a message to Mr. Xi reported in North Korean media this week, Mr. Kim stressed the need to strengthen the unity between the two countries in order to “cope with the hostile forces.” In his own message to Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi vowed to ​help ​preserve “peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s latest missile test suggests Mr. Kim “will tolerate continued economic reliance on China in order to come out of the pandemic on the offensive against Washington and Seoul,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

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North Korea Accuses Washington of Raising ‘a Stink’ in First Comments on Biden

SEOUL — North Korea on Tuesday denounced Washington for raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula by going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea, striking a confrontational tone in its first official comment on the Biden administration.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off a powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said in a statement carried by state-run North Korean media on Tuesday. “If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Ms. Kim, who serves as her brother’s spokeswoman in North Korea’s relations with Seoul and Washington, dedicated most of her statement to criticizing Seoul for pushing ahead with its annual military drills with the United States this month, despite warnings from her brother.

The statement came as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III touched down in Japan for their joint visit this week. Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin were scheduled to fly to South Korea on Wednesday to meet with President Moon Jae-in and other senior South Korean leaders. How to deal with North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat sits high on their agenda.

through multiple channels in recent weeks, but Pyongyang has been unresponsive, according to the White House.

In her statement, Mr. Kim accused South Korea of opting for “war in March” and “crisis in March,” instead of “warmth in March,” by starting the joint military drills, which the North has described as rehearsals for invasion.

Under former President Donald J. Trump, Washington and Seoul suspended or scaled down their joint military drills to support diplomacy with Mr. Kim. After three meetings, Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim collapsed without a deal on how to end North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities.

a party meeting in January, he declared that North Korea would build new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

North Korea has also turned cool toward South Korea, ending all official dialogue with Seoul and blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office. In the party meeting in January, Mr. Kim warned that returning inter-Korean relations to a “point of peace and prosperity” depended on South Korea’s behavior.

And while Mr. Kim himself has largely refrained from personal attacks against Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon, his sister has frequently been dispatched to issue blistering statements against both Washington and Seoul.

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