South Korea wor­ried by grow­ing threat

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Anna Fif ield

TOKYO» The South Korean govern­ment wants greater fire­power to coun­ter­act the grow­ing threat from North Korea’s mis­siles, which have ap­par­ently led the new lib­eral govern­ment in Seoul to pri­or­i­tize tougher ac­tion against Py­ongyang over diplo­matic en­gage­ment.

This rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant shift for Moon Jae-in, who was elected pres­i­dent just two months ago and will be wel­comed in Wash­ing­ton, where the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been grow­ing frus­trated with South Korea’s heel-drag­ging.

The cat­a­lyst for the sud­den change was North Korea’s sec­ond launch in a month of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile tech­ni­cally ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the U.S. main­land.

The Pen­tagon said that the mis­sile, launched close to mid­night North Korea time Fri­day, flew about 2,300 miles al­most straight up be­fore crash­ing into the sea off Ja­pan about 620 miles from its launch site.

Fixed cam­eras for NHK, the Ja­panese pub­lic broad­caster, ap­peared to cap­ture the mis­sile crash­ing into the sea not far from the coast of Hokkaido, the north­ern Ja­panese is­land.

If the ICBM had been launched on a nor­mal tra­jec­tory, the mis­sile could the­o­ret­i­cally have reached Chicago and per­haps even New York, ex­perts said af­ter an­a­lyz­ing the launch.

North Korean state tele­vi­sion on Satur­day broad­cast footage of the launch, show­ing leader Kim Jong Un in a grassy area sur­rounded by trees in the mid­dle of the night, as the mis­sile was wheeled out on the back of a mod­i­fied truck.

The Rodong Sin­mun, the Work­ers’ Party news­pa­per, ran a big front-page photo of Kim sign­ing the or­der to launch the mis­sile that North Korea calls the Hwa­song-14.

It was just one of many pho­tos show­ing the 33-year-old North Korean leader in the con­trol room and at the launch site.

The launch con­firmed sev­eral key tech­ni­cal ad­vances, show­ing the power of the mo­tors and the abil­ity of the mis­sile to sur­vive reen­try into the Earth’s at­mos­phere, the North Korean state news agency re­ported.

It also “demon­strated the ca­pa­bil­ity of mak­ing sur­prise launch of ICBM in any re­gion and place any time, and clearly proved that the whole U.S. main­land is in the fir­ing range of the DPRK mis­siles,” the agency quoted Kim as say­ing.

“If the Yan­kees bran­dish the nu­clear stick on this land again de­spite our re­peated warn­ings, we will clearly teach them man­ners with the nu­clear strate­gic force which we had shown them one by one,” Kim said, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Within hours of the North Korean launch, South Korea showed off a more pow­er­ful bal­lis­tic mis­sile of its own — al­though it still pales in com­par­i­son with the North’s ICBM — in drills with the U.S. mil­i­tary.

“Our com­bined ef­forts show­case the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of this al­liance,” Lt. Gen. Thomas Van­dal, the com­man­der of the Eighth Army, said in a state­ment.

The al­lies were ready to de­ter North Korean provo­ca­tions and de­fend South Korea, he said.

The South’s De­fense Min­istry re­leased footage of two mis­siles be­ing fired from a launcher in quick suc­ces­sion, the first hit­ting a tar­get and the sec­ond de­stroy­ing a bunker. The sys­tem can launch four mis­siles back-to-back, giv­ing the South the abil­ity to carry out fast and lethal strikes, the min­istry said

“In par­tic­u­lar, it can de­stroy not only North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile bases but also the tun­nel-shaped strongholds of its ar­tillery pos­ing a threat to Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi prov­ince,” the min­istry said in a state­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Yon­hap News Agency.

As part of a flurry of phone calls af­ter the launch, South Korea’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Chung Eui-young, called his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part, H.R. Mcmaster, to seek re­vi­sions to their coun­tries’ bi­lat­eral bal­lis­tic mis­sile guide­lines.

Un­der an agree­ment writ­ten in 1979 but re­vised in 2001 and 2012, South Korea is lim­ited in the ca­pa­bil­i­ties it can pur­sue with its own mis­sile pro­gram. The guide­lines limit South Korean bal­lis­tic mis­siles with a range of 500 miles to car­ry­ing a half-ton pay­load, but the Moon ad­min­is­tra­tion is now seek­ing to dou­ble that to one ton.

“It is fair to say that more weight will be given to the pay­load part rather than the mis­sile range is­sue,” the South Korean pres­i­dent’s chief press sec­re­tary told re­porters Satur­day in Seoul.

South Korean of­fi­cials have been con­cerned about the grow­ing “mis­sile gap” be­tween South and North Korea, but any in­creases in the South Korean arse­nal are likely to alarm China in par­tic­u­lar.

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