Missile test seen as shot across bow for Trump, Xi

Failed launch just be­fore U.S.-China sum­mit

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA | A North Korean missile test ended in fail­ure Wed­nes­day when the rocket spun out of con­trol and plunged into the ocean in a fiery crash, a se­nior U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial said.

The launch came shortly be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump’s first meet­ing with Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping later this week, rais­ing spec­u­la­tion that it might have been timed to get their at­ten­tion with the stand­off with Py­ongyang likely to be a top fo­cus of their talks.

The ex­tended-range Scud missile suf­fered an in­flight fail­ure and fell into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, ac­cord­ing to U.S. im­agery and as­sess­ments, the Pentagon of­fi­cial said on back­ground.

Ini­tial U.S. and South Korean as­sess­ments had in­di­cated it was an ad­vanced KN-15 medium-range missile, whose first known test by North Korea was in Fe­bru­ary. But un­like the KN-15, which uses solid fuel, the missile fired Wed­nes­day used liq­uid fuel and was fired from a fixed lo­ca­tion, rather than a mo­bile launcher, the of­fi­cial said.

The South Korean mil­i­tary said the missile was fired from land near the east coast city of Sinpo and flew only about 40 miles.

North Korea is push­ing hard to up­grade its weapons sys­tems to cope with what it calls U.S. drive for regime change. Many weapons ex­perts say the North could have a func­tion­ing nu­clear-tipped missile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. within a few years. North Korea car­ried out two nu­clear tests last year.

Ralph Cossa, pres­i­dent of the Pa­cific Fo­rum CSIS think tank in Honolulu, said he was ex­pect­ing North Korea would do some­thing to co­in­cide with the Trump-Xi sum­mit, per­haps con­duct a nu­clear test. The missile launch may be a pre­cur­sor, with more to come as the sum­mit starts Thurs­day, he said.

“I’ve joked be­fore that they don’t mind be­ing hated but they def­i­nitely hate to be ig­nored,” Mr. Cossa said.

That cal­cu­la­tion may have been be­hind Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son’s un­usu­ally terse, 23-word re­sponse to the lat­est test, which seemed to go out of its way not to dig­nify the North Korean test with a more ex­pan­sive re­sponse.

“North Korea launched yet an­other in­ter­me­di­ate range bal­lis­tic missile,” Mr. Tiller­son’s state­ment said. “The United States has spo­ken enough about North Korea. We have no fur­ther com­ment.”

Re­cent satel­lite im­agery shows pos­si­ble prepa­ra­tions for a test at North Korea’s main nu­clear test site, in­clud­ing the lay­ing of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­bles used to ini­ti­ate a test and col­lect data.

North Korea’s state me­dia have said the world will soon wit­ness what they called “event­ful suc­cesses” in the coun­try’s space de­vel­op­ment. The United States, South Korea and oth­ers call North Korea’s space pro­gram a cover for its long-range missile de­vel­op­ment pro­gram.

South Korea’s For­eign Min­istry called the North’s lat­est missile launch a “reck­less provo­ca­tion” that posed a threat to in­ter­na­tional peace, while Ja­panese Chief Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga said his coun­try lodged a strong protest over the launch.

Mr. Trump has said China must do more to pres­sure North Korea to halt its nu­clear and missile pro­grams, sug­gest­ing vaguely this week his ad­min­is­tra­tion was pre­pared to act alone if Beijing did not co­op­er­ate. Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Hua Chun­y­ing said Wed­nes­day that all sides needed to be in­volved.

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