N. Korea test ramps up tensions
U.S. reports missile explodes on launch a day after parade
PYONGYANG, North Korea — A North Korean missile exploded during launch Sunday from the country’s east coast, U.S. and South Korean officials said, a high-profile failure that comes as a U.S. aircraft carrier approaches the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
It wasn’t clear what kind of missile was fired from the city of Sinpo, but the failure will sting in Pyongyang. It came a day after one of the biggest North Korean propaganda events of the year — celebrations of the 105th birthday of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.
Another missile test from Sinpo failed earlier this month, when the rocket plunged into the ocean.
Washington and Seoul will try hard to figure out what North Korea attempted to launch. North Korea regularly launches short-range missiles, but it is also developing midrange and long-range missiles meant to target U.S. troops in Asia and, eventually, the U.S. mainland.
In Seoul, South Korea’s presidential office convened a national security council meeting to examine security postures.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement that President Donald Trump and his military team “are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment.”
On Saturday, it was a day of spectacle: Jets soared overhead, flying in formation to form “105,” the number of years since Kim Il Sung forged an isolated “workers state” on the northern Korean Peninsula.
Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of citizens marched through Pyongyang, clutching pink artificial flowers and national flags.
They clustered around floats adorned with political slogans. “Long live the socialist medical system,” said one, which was surrounded by doctors. Another, depicting a new residential development, read: “We are the happiest in the world.”
The marchers turned their heads upward to Kim Jong Un, who surveyed the show of military might and public adulation from a high rostrum. Some wept.
The display of pageantry and power Saturday offered a glimpse into one of the world’s most secretive societies. It also provided an opportunity for North Korea — striving to become the world’s next nuclear power — to stage a provocative display of the military hardware it continues to develop in defiance of international sanctions.
In a speech, Choe Ryong Hae, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea — believed to be the country’s second most-powerful man — warned that Pyongyang would not hesitate to deploy nuclear weapons against the United States.
“Now the U.S. imperialists have struck a sovereign country,” he said, referencing Trump’s recent airstrike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. “Now, they are dispatching nuclear forces in the territory of the Korean Peninsula. If the U.S. government pre-emptively strikes our country, we are ready to counter strongly.”
Trump diverted a naval strike group toward the peninsula last week, led by the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier accompanied by destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser. It is not known to carry nuclear weapons.
The North Korea-U.S. showdown has placed northeast Asia in a state of heightened anxiety.
Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to arrive Sunday in Seoul to discuss North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and affirm support for U.S. allies.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that North Korea may be able to arm its missiles with sarin nerve agent.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that a military conflict between North Korea and the U.S. could break out “at any moment” and urged the powers to avoid the “irreversible route” of war.
The parade featured a seemingly endless procession of tanks, missile-bearing trucks and soldiers who goose-stepped in such unison that the ground shook.
North Korea presented several new pieces of military hardware, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, including a type of intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
North Korea is trying to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM that could reach the continental United States; some analysts believe it could acquire that capability within a decade.
Other new weapons on display included Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which North Korea tested last year and are harder to detect than land-launched ICBMs.
Trump has pressured China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program, threatening on Twitter that if it doesn’t, the U.S. could act on its own.
China has taken steps to defuse the situation.
On Friday, Wang pledged to try to renew talks with North Korea in a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, according to China’s foreign ministry.
China also has temporarily halted its coal imports from North Korea — a measure that Trump praised last week in a news conference. But it’s unclear how much further China — the nation’s biggest benefactor — is willing to go.
Beijing fears that a regime collapse in Pyongyang would send refugees across the two countries’ shared border and destroy the buffer between itself and South Korea.
North Korea flexes its military muscles Saturday as missiles roll across Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, the capital.