Launch set to test Trump

Coun­try works to build weapon that can strike U.S.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Anne Gearan and Emily Rauhala

BEI­JING» North Korea’s test launch Tues­day of what ap­peared to be an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile marks a direct chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose tough talk has yet to yield any change in Py­ongyang’s be­hav­ior as the regime con­tin­ues its ef­forts to build a nu­clear weapon ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the main­land United States.

The lat­est mis­sile flew higher and re­mained in the air longer than pre­vi­ous at­tempts — enough to reach all of Alaska, ex­perts said, in a ma­jor milestone for North Korea’s weapons pro­gram.

The test comes just be­fore Trump will see key Asian lead­ers and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin later this week. North Korea was al­ready ex­pected to be a main sub­ject for meet­ings on the side­lines of the Group of 20 eco­nomic sum­mit, but the test adds ur­gency to a widen­ing U.S. cam­paign aimed at fur­ther iso­lat­ing North Korea.

Trump re­sponded to the mis­sile test by ap­ply­ing rhetor­i­cal pres­sure on China, North Korea’s ally and eco­nomic life­line, and by mock­ing North Korean dic­ta­tor

Kim Jong Un on Twit­ter. “North Korea has just launched an­other mis­sile. Does this guy have any­thing bet­ter to do with his life?” Trump asked in a mes­sage shortly af­ter the launch, which took place late Mon­day in the United States.

“Hard to be­lieve that South Korea and Ja­pan will put up with this much longer,” Trump con­tin­ued. “Per­haps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this non­sense once and for all!”

The launch fol­lows a string of ac­tions by Py­ongyang, in­clud­ing a salvo of mis­siles last month and three tests in May. Kim has now launched more mis­siles in one year than his fa­ther and pre­de­ces­sor in the fam­ily dy­nasty did in 17 years in power. North Korea has also con­ducted five nu­clear weapons tests since 2006, in­clud­ing two last year.

The num­ber and va­ri­ety of tests worry ex­perts who see each step as part of a march to­ward a mis­sile ca­pa­ble of strik­ing Amer­ica’s West Coast.

The mis­sile tests vi­o­late ex­ist­ing United Na­tions and other sanc­tions, which North Korea has found ways to evade. Al­though Trump and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son have de­clared that the “era of strate­gic pa­tience” with North Korea is over, the new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion has not spelled out what that means.

Tiller­son has said Wash­ing­ton might ne­go­ti­ate with North Korea un­der the right cir­cum­stances, but he has sug­gested that pos­si­bil­ity is re­mote. The United States will act alone if it must, he has warned, though he has not spelled out what that would en­tail.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has leaned on China to rein in North Korea and curb il­licit trade with the coun­try, an in­ter­na­tional pariah largely cut off from the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem.

Given that Ja­pan and South Korea are within range of ex­ist­ing North Korean mis­siles, Trump has also sought to unite lead­ers of both na­tions be­hind a strongly worded U.S. po­si­tion that it will no longer tol­er­ate the North’s provo­ca­tions. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has asked other na­tions around the globe to sever or down­grade diplo­matic ties with Py­ongyang.

Lead­ers from China, South Korea and Ja­pan will at­tend the G-20 meet­ing in Ger­many.

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe ap­peared to share Trump’s frus­tra­tion, if not his tone. In re­marks to the news me­dia, he vowed to work closely with the United States and South Korea, but called on China and Rus­sia to do more.

“I’d like to strongly urge in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety’s co­op­er­a­tion on the North Korea is­sue and urge China’s chair­man, Xi Jin­ping, and Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Putin to take more con­struc­tive mea­sures,” Abe said.

On Tues­day, Rus­sia and China jointly pro­posed that North Korea put fur­ther nu­clear and mis­sile tests on hold while the United States and ally South Korea re­frain from large-scale mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Both na­tions op­pose North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Both also op­pose the U.S. an­timis­sile sys­tem be­ing in­stalled in South Korea.

Ex­perts said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion does not have many choices for what to do next. “Un­for­tu­nately, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has few op­tions other than ro­bust eco­nomic pres­sure on China and North Korea,” said An­thony Rug­giero, a spe­cial­ist on the long-run­ning diplo­matic and mil­i­tary stand­off at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.

New sanc­tions led by the United States would be the best re­sponse, Rug­giero said, be­cause China and Rus­sia would veto the most ef­fec­tive form of sanc­tions at the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Last week, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced sanc­tions tar­get­ing a China-based bank ac­cused of laun­der­ing money for the North Korean gov­ern­ment and moved for­ward with an arms sale to Tai­wan that Bei­jing op­poses.

China has pledged co­op­er­a­tion with the United States over North Korea but has not fun­da­men­tally shifted away from a strat­egy that bal­ances pres­sure on the Kim regime with keep­ing the regime afloat, said Chris Steinitz, a re­search sci­en­tist at the fed­er­ally funded, non­profit Cen­ter for Naval Analy­ses. “It’s kind of how China looks at ev­ery­thing. They have a very long view,” Steinitz said. “They will wait, they will bide their time. They have a lot of pri­or­i­ties.”

In the mean­time, Steinitz said, North Korea will con­tinue to test mis­siles.

The U.S. mil­i­tary said the Hwa­song-14 was in the air for 37 min­utes, a du­ra­tion that sig­nals a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment over pre­vi­ous tests. The launch was made from a site in North Korea’s North Py­on­gan prov­ince, and the mis­sile flew more than 500 miles be­fore land­ing in wa­ters off Ja­pan’s coast, U.S., South Korean and Ja­panese of­fi­cials said.

As with other re­cent launches, the mis­sile ap­pears to have been fired at a very steep tra­jec­tory in an ef­fort to avoid fly­ing over neigh­bors.

Mul­ti­ple in­de­pen­dent analy­ses of the test showed that the mis­sile flew at a high-al­ti­tude tra­jec­tory, soar­ing to about 1,700 miles be­fore land­ing in the Pa­cific off the Ja­panese coast, about 580 miles from its launch point.

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