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North Korea says it tested new solid-fuel engines for intermediate-range ballistic missiles

North Korea says it tested new solid-fuel engines for intermediate-range ballistic missiles

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North Korea says it tested new solid-fuel engines for intermediate-range ballistic missiles

North Korea said Wednesday it successfully tested new solid-fuel engines designed for intermediate-range ballistic missiles as it works on enhancing its nuclear-capable arsenal with more powerful, harder-to-detect weapons that can potentially target U.S. military bases in Guam and Japan.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the country’s military scientists tested the first-stage and second-stage missile engines on Saturday and Tuesday. The report did not say when the new missile system was expected to be completed.

The tests extend a torrid run in North Korea’s weapons development efforts, which some analysts say could be boosted by an alleged arms cooperation with Russia as they align in the face of separate, intensifying confrontations with the United States.

Tuesday’s test came as Russia’s natural resources minister, Alexander Kozlov, arrived in North Korea for talks over unspecified trade and technology exchanges, as the countries continued to build on a rare summit in September between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian Vladimir Putin.

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Kim’s trip to the Russian Far East, where he also visited major rocket and military sites, sparked concerns about a potential arms alignment between the countries, in which North Korea provides munitions for Russia’s war in Ukraine in exchange for Russian technology transfers that would upgrade Kim’s military nuclear program.

The North’s existing intermediate-range missiles, including the Hwasong-12 that may be able to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, are powered by liquid-fuel engines, which need to be fueled before launch and cannot stay fueled for long periods of time.

Missiles with built-in solid propellants can be made ready to launch faster and are easier to move and conceal, which theoretically makes it harder for adversaries to detect and preempt the launch in advance.

The recent tests were an “essential process for further enhancing the strategic offensive capabilities of (North Korea’s) armed forces in the light of the grave and unstable security environment facing the country and the future military situation in the region, in which the enemies will get more vicious in their military collusion and nexus,” KCNA said.

North Korea’s claims that the engine tests were successful suggest the country will flight-test the new missile in the coming weeks, said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. The missile could pose a potential threat to Guam, a major U.S. military hub, and to American military bases in Japan, which may add to Japan’s urgency to upgrade its military and further expand three-way security cooperation with Seoul and Washington, Cheong said.

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When asked about North Korea’s missile engine tests, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the North is clearly trying to improve its “sneak attack capability.” “We think North Korea possibly takes further provocative actions, including missile firings and nuclear tests, and the Japanese government will do its utmost for information gathering, analysis and reconnaissance,” he said.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years after Kim ramped up his weapons demonstrations, including events he described as simulated nuclear attacks on the South. He also authorized his military to launch preemptive nuclear strikes against enemies if it perceived Pyongyang’s top leadership to be under threat.

South Korea has responded by expanding its combined military exercises with the United States, which Kim has condemned as invasion rehearsals, and enhancing trilateral security cooperation with Japan. Seoul is also seeking stronger public assurances from Washington that it would swiftly and decisively use U.S. nuclear weapons to protect the South in case of a North Korean nuclear attack.

In the allies’ latest show of force, the United States deployed at least one nuclear-capable B-52 bomber and F-35 and F-16 fighter jets to train with South Korean warplanes on Wednesday above the South’s western seas, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. The ministry said in a statement that the joint exercise was aimed at demonstrating the allies’ capabilities to “instantly, overwhelmingly and decisively respond” to any North Korean provocations.

During their annual security talks this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik signed an updated bilateral security agreement with the aim of more effectively countering North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.

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Shin said the new document spells out that the United States would mobilize its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend the South in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack. He also said the document would be a template for the allies to strategize how South Korea could assist U.S. nuclear operations in such events with its conventional capabilities but didn’t elaborate further.

North Korea earlier this year revealed its first solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-18, which has the potential ability to reach deep into the U.S. mainland.

Analysts say the North has to clear further technological hurdles to have a viable nuclear arsenal that could threaten the United States.

All of North Korea’s ICBM tests so far were done at high angles to avoid the territory of neighbors, so it’s not yet clear whether the country has mastered the technology to ensure its warheads would survive atmospheric reentry well enough to precisely hit their targets.

The North also has a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles that are designed to be fired from land vehicles, silos or submarines. Some of these missiles are designed to be maneuverable and fly at low altitudes, theoretically giving them a better chance of defeating missile defense systems in South Korea.

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U.S. and South Korean officials have repeatedly raised concerns that North Korea could receive Russian technological support to enhance the threat of its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for providing munitions and military equipment to boost Russia’s warfighting capabilities in Ukraine.

South Korean intelligence and military officials have said North Korea may have shipped more than a million artillery shells to Russia beginning in August, weeks before Kim’s meeting with Putin. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied U.S. and South Korean claims about the alleged arms transfers.

Separately, KCNA reported the visit by a Russian delegation led by Kozlov. The report said the two sides were engaged in talks over trade, science and technology exchanges, but it did not elaborate further.

The Associated Press had reported he arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday. __ Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to the report.  

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

 The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC majority rule.

Once unthinkable, the deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said, adding that multi-party government was the “new normal”.

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The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and has spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties, which came down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

The DA’s entry into national government is a big moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes. The party has struggled to shake off its image as a defender of rich white people and convince a broad spectrum of South Africans that it reflects their aspirations.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said. 

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas' armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.

The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.

The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the al-Qassam Brigades statement said.

Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.

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The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. 

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and U.S. vessels in Cuba – a Communist-ruled island nation just 160 km (100 miles) from Florida – served up a reminder of old Cold War tensions and of current fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.

However, both the U.S. and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.

The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit…in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries”, adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”

Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union and tensions with Washington over Communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow, which has maintained ties with Havana, has questioned the apparent nervousness of the West over the warships this week. 

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