By Andrew Beatty, AFP
SEOUL — Visiting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described North Korea’s failed missile test Sunday as a “provocation” and assured South Korea of Washington’s full support against the threat from its volatile neighbor. Pyongyang launched the missile hours before Pence arrived in Seoul for talks on curbing the North’s weapons programs as fears grow that it is planning another nuclear test. But U.S. officials said the missile exploded seconds after it was fired. “This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face each and every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world,” Pence told U.S. military families at an Easter dinner. Some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South. The latest launch came a day after the North held a defiant massive military parade in Pyongyang which showcased nearly 60 missiles — including a suspected new intercontinental ballistic missile. “The missile blew up almost immediately,” the U.S. Defense Department said of Sunday’s early-morning launch from near Sinpo on the North’s east coast. The type of missile was not clear. The North has a habit of test-firing missiles to mark major dates such as Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s founder Kim Il Sung, or as gestures of defiance when top U.S. officials visit the region. South Korea’s foreign ministry said that by conducting the latest test just a day after displaying a series of missiles, “North Korea has threatened the whole world.” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest test but had “no further comment,” while at the Easter dinner at Yongsan military base, Pence brought greetings for the troops from Trump. “Let me assure you that under President Trump’s leadership our resolve has never been stronger, our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger and with your help and God’s help freedom will ever prevail on this peninsula,” he said. Tough Stance
Last August a submarine-launched ballistic missile tested from Sinpo flew 500 kilometers towards Japan. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hailed that test as the “greatest success” and said it brought the U.S. mainland within range of a mobile delivery system. Pyongyang’s rogue atomic ambitions have come into sharp focus in recent weeks, with Trump vowing a tough stance against the North and threatening unilateral action if China failed to help curb its neighbor’s nuclear program. Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. With speculation mounting that the North is preparing to conduct a sixth nuclear test, he sent an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula. But a White House foreign policy adviser travelling with Pence played down Sunday’s test, saying the missile — probably a medium-range one — failed after about four to five seconds.