In a 1st, North Korea fires mis­sile over Ja­pan in agggres­sive test

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

In a first, North Korea on Tues­day fired a midrange bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­signed to carry a nu­clear pay­load that flew over Ja­pan and splashed into the north­ern Pa­cific Ocean, of­fi­cials said. The ag­gres­sive mis­sile launch — likely the long­est ever from North Korea — over the ter­ri­tory of a close U.S. ally sends a clear mes­sage of de­fi­ance as Wash­ing­ton and Seoul con­duct war games nearby.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the mis­sile trav­eled around 2,700 kilo­me­ters (1,677 miles) and reached a max­i­mum height of 550 kilo­me­ters (341 miles) as it trav­eled over the north­ern Ja­panese is­land of Hokkaido. The dis­tance and type of mis­sile tested seemed de­signed to show that North Korea can back up a threat to tar­get the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam, if it chooses to do so, while also es­tab­lish­ing a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous prece­dent that could see future mis­siles fly­ing over Ja­pan.

Any new test wor­ries Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies be­cause it pre­sum­ably puts North Korea a step closer to its goal of an ar­se­nal of nu­clear mis­siles that can re­li­ably tar­get the United States. Tues­day’s test, how­ever, looks es­pe­cially ag­gres­sive to Wash­ing­ton, Seoul and Tokyo.

North Korea has con­ducted launches at an un­usu­ally fast pace this year — 13 times, Seoul says — and some an­a­lysts be­lieve it could have vi­able long-range nu­clear mis­siles be­fore the end of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first term in early 2021.

Seoul says that while North Korea has twice be­fore fired rock­ets it said were car­ry­ing satel­lites over Ja­pan — in 1998 and 2009 — it has never be­fore used a bal­lis­tic mis­sile, which is un­am­bigu­ously de­signed for mil­i­tary strikes. North Korea also chose not to fire its most re­cent mis­sile at a lofted an­gle, as it did in pre­vi­ous launches to avoid other coun­tries, and Seoul’s spy ser­vice said the North launched from an un­usual spot: the in­ter­na­tional air­port in its cap­i­tal, Py­ongyang. The South Korean mil­i­tary was an­a­lyz­ing whether North Korea had launched a Hwa­song-12, a new in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile that it re­cently threat­ened to fire into wa­ters near Guam, which hosts a ma­jor U.S. mil­i­tary base that the North con­sid­ers a threat.

The launch is also an­other re­buke to Trump, who sug­gested last week that his tough ap­proach to North Korea, which in­cluded threats to un­leash “fire and fury,” meant leader Kim Jong Un “is start­ing to re­spect us.”

Tues­day’s mis­sile landed nowhere near Guam, but fir­ing a Hwa­song-12 (Hwa­song is Korean for Mars, or Fire Star) so soon af­ter the Guam threat may be a way for North Korea to show it could fol­low through if it chose to do so. Guam is 3,400 kilo­me­ters (2,110 miles) away from North Korea, but South Korea’s mil­i­tary said the North may have fired the most re­cent mis­sile at a shorter range.

South Korea’s spy agency told law­mak­ers in a closed-door brief­ing that North Korea fired the mis­sile from an air­field at Py­ongyang’s in­ter­na­tional air­port. Some out­side ob­servers said launch­ing a road-mo­bile mis­sile from an air­port run­way could demon­strate the North’s abil­ity to fire its mis­siles from any­where in the coun­try. It was not im­me­di­ately clear what the launch meant for the few civil­ian flights that use the air­port.

The Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice also told law­mak­ers it was un­clear whether the mis­sile’s war­head sur­vived at­mo­spheric re-en­try, ac­cord­ing to the of­fice of Kim Byung-kee, a law­maker in at­ten­dance.

Separately, the spy agency said North Korean leader Kim’s third child was born in Fe­bru­ary, but pro­vided no other de­tails.

North Korea will no doubt be watch­ing the world’s re­ac­tion to see if it can use Tues­day’s flight over Ja­pan as a prece­dent for future launches. Ja­panese of­fi­cials made their usual strongly worded con­dem­na­tions of the launch. There were no im­me­di­ate tweets from Trump.

“We will do our ut­most to pro­tect peo­ple’s lives,” Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe said. “This reck­less act of launch­ing a mis­sile that flies over our coun­try is an un­prece­dented, se­ri­ous and im­por­tant threat.”

Tokyo said there was no re­ported dam­age from the mis­sile, which Ja­pan’s NHK TV said sep­a­rated into three parts. Res­i­dents on Hokkaido were warned of a North Korean mis­sile launch by an alert on their cell­phones, with loud alarms and an email that told peo­ple to stay in­doors. Speak­ers broad­cast an alert say­ing “mis­sile is pass­ing, mis­sile is pass­ing.”

A U.S. con­gress­man vis­it­ing Seoul said Wash­ing­ton is now pres­sur­ing North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear am­bi­tions by shut­ting down the im­pov­er­ished coun­try’s ac­cess to hard cur­rency, the lifeblood of its ex­pen­sive weapons pro­gram.

The goal is to of­fer in­ter­na­tional banks that do busi­ness with North Korea a choice be­tween bank­ruptcy and freez­ing North Korean ac­counts, U.S. Rep. Ed

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