North Korea fires first bal­lis­tic mis­sile since Trump was sworn in

In Fla., pres­i­dent and Ja­panese leader re­spond to test-fir­ing of weapon

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY ANNA FI­FIELD anna.fi­field@wash­post.com

tokyo — North Korea fired a bal­lis­tic mis­sile Sun­day morn­ing, its first provo­ca­tion since Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent of the United States and one that sets up a test for the new ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

The mis­sile was fired shortly be­fore 8 a.m. lo­cal time from a known test site in North Py­on­gan prov­ince in the west of the coun­try, not far from the bor­der with China, and flew over the Korean Penin­sula and into the Sea of Ja­pan, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said.

The launch hap­pened while Pres­i­dent Trump was host­ing Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe at his golf re­sort in Florida. In a brief joint ap­pear­ance af­ter the news of the mis­sile test, the two pre­sented a united front. Abe called the test “ab­so­lutely in­tol­er­a­ble.” He said that in his sum­mit with Trump at the White House on Fri­day the pres­i­dent “as­sured me the United States will al­ways stand with Ja­pan 100 per­cent.”

Af­ter Abe spoke, Trump, who had been stand­ing be­hind him, took the mi­cro­phone and said: “I just want ev­ery­body to un­der­stand and fully know that the United States of Amer­ica stands be­hind Ja­pan, its great ally, 100 per­cent.”

Trump did not men­tion South Korea, also an im­por­tant U.S. ally. Nei­ther leader an­swered ques­tions.

South Korea’s mil­i­tary lead­ers were still work­ing to an­a­lyze data from the pro­jec­tile but said it ap­peared to be a medium-range Musu­dan mis­sile, the type that North Korea had been try­ing to per­fect last year. The Musu­dan is tech­ni­cally ca­pa­ble of fly­ing as far as 2,400 miles, putting Guam within range and al­most reach­ing Alaska. But the joint chiefs said this mis­sile ap­peared to fly only 300 miles.

“The mil­i­tary is de­ter­min­ing if the mis­sile is a mod­i­fied Musu­dan in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile or the shorter range Rodong mis­sile,” a mil­i­tary of­fi­cial told the South’s Yon­hap News Agency.

But some an­a­lysts thought the launch could have been the first stages of an in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the United States.

“I think we’re all wait­ing for the first two stages of the ICBM,” said Jef­frey Lewis of the Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies at the Mid­dle­bury In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “They fin­ished test­ing that en­gine on the stand so now it’s time to test it in the air.”

“I don’t think this [mis­sile test] is de­signed to re­spond to Trump; I think this is part of Kim Jong Un’s con­tin­ued ef­forts to try to ad­vance his pro­grams,” said Jon Wolf­sthal, a se­nior non­pro­lif­er­a­tion of­fi­cial in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion now at Har­vard’s Belfer Cen­ter. “But it has the added ef­fect of call­ing Trump’s bluff. The real ques­tion is not what North Korea has done, but what the U.S. is go­ing to do about it,” he said.

Kim’s regime has de­clared a goal of pro­duc­ing an in­tercon­ti­nen­tal mis­sile that can de­liver a nu­clear pay­load to the United States and last year ap­peared to be making a con­certed ef­fort to­ward achiev­ing that goal. It con­ducted two nu­clear tests and dozens of mis­sile tests, in­clud­ing eight Musu­dan tests. Only one, in June, was a suc­cess, fly­ing about 250 miles and reach­ing a sur­pris­ingly high al­ti­tude.

But the regime had not fired any since Oc­to­ber, per­haps to avoid in­flu­enc­ing do­mes­tic pol­i­tics in the United States ahead of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and in South Korea, where the con­ser­va­tive pres­i­dent has been im­peached and there is now a good chance of a pro­gres­sive ad­min­is­tra­tion that is friend­lier to Py­ongyang.

In his New Year’s ad­dress, Kim said that North Korea had test­fired in var­i­ous ways for a nu­clear strike “to cope with the im­pe­ri­al­ists’ nu­clear war threats” and said that the coun­try had “en­tered the fi­nal stage of prepa­ra­tion for the test launch of in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.”

In re­sponse, Trump tweeted: “North Korea just stated that it is in the fi­nal stages of de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear weapon ca­pa­ble of reach­ing parts of the U.S. It won’t hap­pen!”

But apart from re­peat­ing the usual pledges to work to stop North Korea from reach­ing its nu­clear goals, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said lit­tle on what it would do to stop Kim. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­der­stood to be em­bark­ing on a view of North Korea af­ter eight years in which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion prac­ticed “strate­gic pa­tience” — hop­ing that it could wait out North Korea.

In Seoul, act­ing pres­i­dent Hwang Kyo-ahn con­vened a meet­ing of the na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil and said the South Korean gov­ern­ment would work with its al­lies to en­sure a “con­certed re­sponse to pun­ish North Korea.” John Wag­ner in Florida and David Nakamura in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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