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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defiant N. Korea Test-Fires Missiles

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea fired a flurry of missiles into the sea Wednesday in what was widely seen as a bid to pressure Washington into addressing demands for economic aid and other concessions amid a long-running nuclear standoff.

The missile tests triggered alarm in foreign capitals. The crisis comes as world leaders try to defuse another standoff, urging Iran to accept Western incentives in exchange for the suspension of nuclear activities.

Iran has drawn much of the international spotlight in recent weeks because of concern over its suspected nuclear weapons program, and analysts and officials said North Korea's missile barrage was an attempt to grab attention in the way that it knows best: diplomatic brinkmanship.

"I think it is an act of political pressure aimed at changing the situation [in its favor] on various issues, including the nuclear issue," South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said.

The firing of at least a half-dozen missiles, most of which fell harmlessly into the sea west of the Korean Peninsula, renewed American fears that North Korea is refining its alleged capability to hit the U.S. mainland with a warhead. Japan, which is well within North Korean missile range, warned of possible economic sanctions against the regime.

U.S. officials said North Korea fired a long-range Taepodong-2 early in the day, but that it failed after takeoff, while the other missiles had a shorter range. Pyongyang last fired a long-range missile in 1998. North Korea has a highly developed missile program, but intelligence experts doubt the accuracy of the Taepodong-2 as well as the North's ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.

North Korea was defiant, with a Foreign Ministry official telling Japanese journalists in Pyongyang that the regime there had an undeniable right to test missiles. "The missile launch is an issue that is entirely within our sovereignty. No one has the right to dispute it," Ri Pyong Dok, a researcher on Japanese affairs at the North's Foreign Ministry, said on footage aired by Japanese television network TBS. "On the missile launch, we are not bound by any agreement."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said Wednesday the UN Security Council must send a "strong and unanimous signal" that North Korea's missile test was unacceptable.

China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, said the launch was regrettable, and suggested Beijing would be willing to support some form of council action, though he did not say what.

Bolton and Wang were heading into an emergency council meeting where diplomats were to discuss a draft Japanese resolution that would likely condemn the North Korean missile launches.

Pyongyang could test additional missiles soon despite the international furor over Wednesday's launches, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said after making a protest via telephone to North Korea's ambassador to Canberra, Chon Jae Hong.

South Korea, separated from the North by the world's most heavily armed border, said the test launches would further deepen its neighbor's international isolation, sour public opinion in the South toward Pyongyang and hurt efforts to control weapons of mass destruction.