North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US-China summit

Michelle Jung, April 5, 2017, 9:36 a.m.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile off its east coast Wednesday in an apparent show of force a day before the first summit between US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, South Korea’s military said. 

The missile lifted off at 6:42 a.m. from a land-based facility near the eastern coastal city of Sinpo, home to the North’s submarine base. Having reached an altitude of 189 kilometers, the missile flew about 60 kilometers before falling into the East Sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Based on initial analysis between South Korea and the US military, the missile is believed to be a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile -- otherwise known as the Pukguksong-2, which the North launched for the first time in February, the JCS added. 

“Our assessment is that the missile fired today falls into the category of KN-15,” a JCS official told reporters under the customary condition of anonymity. “We believe the missile launch came in consideration of the scheduled US-China summit and gave the North an opportunity to check its missile capability.” 

The US Pacific Command also confirmed the type of missile was a KN-15, adding the launch “did not a pose a threat” to US territory based on an intelligence assessment from the North American Aerospace Defense Command. 

Using solid-fuel and a mobile launcher, the Pukguksung-2 had rattled the allies when it was first unveiled in February with its ability to make it difficult for outsiders to detect launch signs in advance. Most of the North’s missiles use liquid propellants, which need to be added on the launch pad before liftoff. 

Whether Wednesday’s launch was a success has yet to be determined, the JCS official said, responding to a question over the missile’s shorter flight distance of 60 kilometers than the previous Pukguksong-2 missile, which flew about 500 kilometers. 

Some analysts suggested the launch might be a test of a new missile -- or a modified version of conventional ones, saying it was unusual to see the North conducting a missile test at a launch site near the coast, not an inland site at Banghyeon, North Pyongan Province. The previous Pukguksong-2 and intermediate-range Musudan missiles fired last year were all also launched from Banghyeon. 

The JCS, however, dismissed the possibility that the missile was launched from a submarine, reiterating it involved a land-based facility. North Korea has spurred the development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles since it successfully test-fired an SLBM at a shipyard in Sinpo last year. 

“It is still too early to discuss whether the launch was a success or failure and whether the missile flew normally,” said the official. “It needs further analysis.”

South Korea and Japan condemned it as a “flagrant and clear” violation of UN Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from developing ballistic missiles, which North Korea test-fired four times since Donald Trump took office in January.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had hinted at taking “military options” against the North’s military provocations, issued a terse statement, saying “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” 

Shortly after the missile launch Cheong Wa Dae convened a National Security Council meeting chaired by its chief Kim Kwan-jin. The attendants pledged a stern response against North Korea’s potential military provocation. 

“The missile launch constitutes a grave threat to the international community and poses a flagrant challenge to the UN security resolution on North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocation. For that, our government strongly condemns (the launch),” Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said. 

Describing the launch as a “major provocation,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would “never tolerate” the North’s missile test and pledge to enhance security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. 

“North Korea’s missile launch is a major provocation to our security. It is intolerable,” the prime minister told reporters. “We believe North Korea would conduct another provocation. We will seek to come up with measures to protect the people’s lives working with the US and Korea."

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