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North Korea fires missile for the first time in more than two months

  • People watch a TV screen showing file footage of North Korea's missile launch at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. U.S. President Donald Trump announced Monday the U.S. is putting North Korea's "murderous regime" on America's terrorism blacklist, despite questions about Pyongyang's support for international attacks beyond the assassination of its leader's half brother in February. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Ahn Young-joon



Washington Post
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

North Korea launched a missile early Wednesday morning, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said, the first launch in more than two months and one that will reignite tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Wednesday’s missile was launched from South Pyongan province just before 3 a.m. local time and was fired to the east, South Korea’s joint chiefs said, according to the Yonhap News Agency. The South’s armed forces conducted a “precision strike” missile launch in response, the joint chiefs said.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said that the missile appeared to have flown for about 50 minutes before landing inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone waters.

Emergency alerts warned Japanese residents of the launch and the Coast Guard told ships to watch for falling debris.

But it was not immediately clear whether North Korea had launched another intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, or whether this was a shorter-range projectile.

“We are in the process of assessing the situation and will provide additional information when available,” said Lt. Col. Chris Logan, a Pentagon spokesman.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that President Donald Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.”

There had been signs that North Korea was preparing for another launch. The Japanese government had detected radio signals suggesting that North Korea might be preparing for a ballistic missile launch, Kyodo News reported Monday, citing government sources.

North Korea last fired a missile on Sept. 15, sending an intermediate-range missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It traveled for 2,300 miles in an easterly direction, landing in the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea was seeking military “equilibrium” with the United States as a way to stop American leaders from talking about military options for dealing with Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said after supervising the Sept. 15 launch.

That was the second launch over Japan in less than three weeks and came less than two weeks after North Korea exploded what was widely believed to be a hydrogen bomb.

Those events triggered ire overseas, with Trump denouncing North Korea’s regime during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly and mocking Kim as “little rocket man.”

That label triggered an angry and unusually direct response from the North Korean leader, who called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and warned the U.S. president that he would “pay dearly” for his threat to destroy North Korea.

On Tuesday, a senior South Korean official said that North Korea could announce next year that it has completed its nuclear weapons program.

“North Korea has been developing its nuclear weapons at a faster-than-expected pace. We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a clear force within one year,” Cho Myoung-gyon, the unification minister, who is in charge of the South’s relations with the North, told foreign reporters in Seoul.

Pyongyang has been working to fit a nuclear warhead to a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, which it says it needs to protect itself from a “hostile” Washington. It has made rapid progress during the course of this year, firing two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, the second of which was technically capable of reaching as far as Denver or Chicago, or possibly even New York.

But despite an increase in tensions over the past two months, including a U.S. Navy three-carrier strike group conducting military exercises in the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, 74 days had passed without any missile launches by the North.

That was the longest pause all year, according to Shea Cotton, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. North Korea has now tested 20 missiles this year, compared with 24 by this time last year.

The pause had raised hopes that North Korea might be showing interest in returning to talks about its nuclear program.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations late last month, Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, said that if North Korea went 60 days without testing a missile or a nuclear weapon, it could be a sign that Pyongyang was open to dialogue.