North Korea fires new version of ballistic missile

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North Korea conducted its first ballistic missile launch test in more than two months early on Wednesday morning local time, South Korean and US officials said.

According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, the missile was launched from Sain Ni in the South Pyongyang Province and flew eastwards towards Japan. Those reports were quickly confirmed by South Korea’s military and US government officials — on condition of anonymity — who said they were analyzing the missile’s trajectory. 

In a statement on North Korean television, Pyongyang said it had launched a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called a Hwasong-15. It claimed the missile was superior to the previous Hwasong-14 and was capable of striking the entire US continent.

Read more: North Korea’s ‘ballistic submarine’: Will Kim’s gamble pay off?

Manning said the Pentagon was unable to confirm what kind of missile may have been launched, although initial assessments indicated it was an ICBM.

South Korean and US officials said the missile flew 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in about 50 minutes before landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, the area off the country’s coast where it has jurisdiction over nautical resources.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile traveled higher than any other Pyongyang has ever fired.

It was Pyongyang’s first ballistic launch since September 15, when it fired a missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and into the Pacific Ocean. It also conducted its most powerful nuclear test ever that month, when it supposedly detonated a hydrogen bomb.

Minutes after the missile launch, Seoul conducted its own “precision strike” missile firing test in response to the North’s provocations, South Korea military officials said. South Korea’s unification minister had warned earlier on Tuesday that signs of unusual activity had been detected in the North.

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Trump: US ‘will take care of it’

Addressing the missile launch, US President Donald Trump told reporters that “it is a situation that we will handle,” without providing further detail.

The White House said that the president had been briefed on the North’s ICBM test while the missile was still in the air. Trump was meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill at the time.

His defense chief Mattis said North Korea was endangering world peace, regional peace and “certainly the United States.”

Japan, Korea vow to maximize pressure

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to maximize pressure on North Korea. “An outrageous act like this is absolutely intolerable as it trampled
on the international community’s united strong will to seek a peaceful solution,” Abe told reporters.

He called for the international community to unite and fully implement sanctions against North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in strongly condemns the latest launch, but said the launch had been anticipated. 

Moon said the international community had to keep pressuring and sanctioning North Korea.

A Japanese government spokesperson said the US and Japan agreed that China had to play an increased role regarding North Korea.

Security Council set to meet Wednesday

The United Nations Security Council will hold an urgent meeting Wednesday to discuss the test, the US mission to the UN said.

Also on the international stage, a spokeswoman for European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini described North Korea’s ICBM launch as a further unacceptable violation” of its international obligations. 

“This launch represents a further grave provocation, and a serious threat to international security,” Mogherini spokeswoman added. French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the launch in a post on Twitter and called for increased pressure on Pyongyang.

A summer of saber-rattling

The launch comes just a week after Trump re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the US to impose even stricter sanctions on the rogue regime. The US president said the terror designation and sanctions were part of his “maximum pressure campaign” against the North’s regime.

Pyongyang denounced Trump’s move, calling it a “serious provocation and violent infringement.”

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traded a series of insults over the summer, which saw the US president use his maiden speech before the United Nations to warn Pyongyang that the US would have no choice but to  “totally destroy” North Korea if it were forced to defend itself or its allies from a missile attack.

aw, dm/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP)