North Korea test-fires bal­lis­tic mis­sile in im­plicit chal­lenge to Don­ald Trump.


North Korea ap­peared to fire a bal­lis­tic mis­sile early Sun­day in what would be its first such test of the year and an im­plicit chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who stood with the Ja­panese leader as Shinzo Abe called the move “in­tol­er­a­ble.’’

There was no im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion from the North, which had re­cently warned it was ready to test its first in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. The U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand said it de­tected and tracked what it as­sessed to be a medium- or in­ter­me­di­at­erange bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

North Korean me­dia are of­ten slow to an­nounce such launches, if they an­nounce them at all. As of Sun­day af­ter­noon, there had been no of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment and most North Kore­ans went about their day with no inkling that the launch was ma­jor in­ter­na­tional news.

The re­ports of the launch came as Trump was host­ing Prime Min­is­ter Abe and just days be­fore the North is to mark the birth­day of leader Kim Jong Un’s late fa­ther, Kim Jong Il.

Ap­pear­ing with Trump at a news con­fer­ence at the pres­i­dent’s south Florida es­tate, Abe con­demned the mis­sile launch as “ab­so­lutely in­tol­er­a­ble.’’

Abe read a brief state­ment in which he called on the North to com­ply fully with rel­e­vant UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions. He said Trump had as­sured him of U.S. sup­port and that Trump’s pres­ence showed the pres­i­dent’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and com­mit­ment.

Trump fol­lowed Abe with even fewer words, say­ing in part: “I just want every­body to un­der­stand and fully know that the United States of Amer­ica stands be­hind Ja­pan, its great ally, 100 per cent.’’

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a state­ment that the mis­sile was fired from around Banghyon, North Py­on­gan Prov­ince, which is where South Korean of­fi­cials have said the North test-launched its pow­er­ful midrange Musu­dan mis­sile on Oct. 15 and 20.

The mil­i­tary in Seoul said that the mis­sile flew about 500 kilo­me­tres (310 miles). But South Korea’s Yon­hap news agency re­ported that while de­ter­mi­na­tions were still be­ing made, it was not be­lieved to be an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

The mis­sile splashed down into the sea be­tween the Korean Penin­sula and Ja­pan, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand. Ja­panese Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga told re­porters that the mis­sile did not hit Ja­panese ter­ri­to­rial seas.

The North con­ducted two nu­clear tests and a slew of rocket launches last year in con­tin­ued ef­forts to ex­pand its nu­clear weapons and mis­sile pro­grams. Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s ad­dress that the coun­try had reached the fi­nal stages of readi­ness to test an ICBM, which would be a ma­jor step for­ward in its ef­forts to build a cred­i­ble nu­clear threat to the United States.

Though Py­ongyang has been rel­a­tively quiet about the trans­fer of power to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, its state me­dia has re­peat­edly called for Wash­ing­ton to aban­don its “hos­tile pol­icy’’ and vowed to con­tinue its nu­clear and mis­sile de­vel­op­ment pro­grams un­til the U.S. changes its diplo­matic ap­proach.

Just days ago, it also reaf­firmed its plan to con­duct more space launches, which it staunchly de­fends but which have been crit­i­cized be­cause they in­volve dual-use tech­nol­ogy that can be trans­ferred to im­prove mis­siles.

“Our coun­try has clearly ex­pressed its stand­point, that we will con­tinue to build up our ca­pac­ity for self-de­fence, with nu­clear forces and a pre­emp­tive strike ca­pa­bil­ity as the main points, as long as our en­e­mies con­tinue sanc­tions to sup­press us,’’ Py­ongyang stu­dent Kim Guk Bom said Sun­day. “We will de­fend the peace and se­cu­rity of our coun­try at any cost, with our own effort, and we will con­trib­ute to global peace and sta­bil­ity.’’

Kim Dong-yeop, an an­a­lyst at the In­sti­tute for Far East­ern Stud­ies in Seoul, spec­u­lated that the mis­sile could be a Musu­dan or a sim­i­lar rocket de­signed to test en­gines for an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile that could hit the U.S. main­land. An­a­lysts are di­vided, how­ever, over how close the North is to hav­ing a re­li­able long-range rocket that could be cou­pled with a nu­clear war­head ca­pa­ble of strik­ing U.S. tar­gets.

South Korean Prime Min­is­ter Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also the act­ing pres­i­dent, said his coun­try would pun­ish North Korea for the mis­sile launch. Ac­cord­ing to the For­eign Min­istry, South Korea will con­tinue to work with al­lies, in­clud­ing the United States, Ja­pan and the Euro­pean Union, to en­sure a thor­ough im­ple­men­ta­tion of sanc­tions against the North and make the coun­try re­al­ize that it will “never be able to sur­vive’’ with­out dis­card­ing all of its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks as Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe lis­tens as they both made state­ments about North Korea at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Satur­day. North Korea re­port­edly fired a bal­lis­tic mis­sile early Sun­day in what would be its first such test of the year and an im­plicit chal­lenge to Trump.

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