SEOUL — A new North Korean missile test failed on Wednesday, the South and U.S. said, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on American bases in Japan. The nuclear-armed North is under several sets of United Nations sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programs. It is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland with an atomic warhead, and staged two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches last year. The North fired one missile from an air base in the eastern port of Wonsan Wednesday morning, but the launch “is believed to have failed,” Seoul’s defense ministry said in a statement, adding it was analyzing what type of missile was involved. The U.S. military said the missile exploded shortly after launch.
“U.S. Pacific Command detected what we assess was a failed North Korean missile launch attempt … in the vicinity of Kalma. A missile appears to have exploded within seconds of launch,” spokesman David Benham said. Earlier this month Pyongyang launched a flight of four ballistic missiles, with three landing provocatively close to Japan in what the North described as practice for attacks on U.S. military bases in Japan.
On Sunday, its leader Kim Jong Un personally oversaw and hailed a “successful” test of what Pyongyang said was a new rocket engine — which can be easily repurposed for use in missiles.
Seoul said that experiment showed “meaningful progress” in the North’s missile capabilities. The developments come as Seoul and Washington hold large-scale annual joint military exercises that always infuriate Pyongyang, which sees them as a rehearsal for invasion. Analysts’ opinions are varied on how advanced the North’s missile technologies are but many agree that Pyongyang has made significant progress in recent years. ‘Option on the table’ Sunday’s engine test was apparently timed to coincide with a recent Asia trip by new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who warned that regional tensions had reached a “dangerous level.” Washington would drop the “failed” approach of “strategic patience” with Pyongyang, Tillerson said, warning that U.S. military action was an “option on the table” if necessary — a sharp divergence from China’s insistence on a diplomatic approach to its neighbor, which it has long protected.