N. Ko­rea test ramps up ten­sions

U.S. re­ports mis­sile ex­plodes on launch a day af­ter pa­rade

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

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.

WONG MAYE-E/AP

North Ko­rea flexes its mil­i­tary mus­cles Saturday as mis­siles roll across Kim Il Sung Square in Py­ongyang, the cap­i­tal.

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