S. Korea, US confirm failed NK ballistic missile launch

Miri Han, Oct. 17, 2016, 10:13 a.m.

South Korea and the US have assessed that North Korea attempted what ultimately was a failed launch of its intermediate-range Musudan missile Saturday, the allies’ joint military body said Sunday.

According to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pyongyang fired the missile at around 12:33 p.m. near the northwestern city of Kusong in North Pyongan Province. The city is adjacent to the North’s Yongbyon nuclear facility and a missile launch site in Dongchang-ri.

“The missile failed immediately after launch. Our military has shared relevant information with the US and jointly assessed this morning that the projectile was Musudan,” the JCS said. The missile reportedly exploded right after takeoff.

“North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile presents a clear violation of the UN Security Council resolution and we strongly condemn its illegal acts of provocations,” it added, saying that the military is on full alert for any other threats from the communist country. The UNSC resolution bans the North from all ballistic missile or nuclear programs.

Earlier in the day, the US Strategic Command said that its systems detected the failed Musudan launch, and that the North American Aerospace Defense Command evaluated that it did not pose a threat to North America.

Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that the US condemns the North’s recent missile tests including the most recent one Saturday.

“This provocation only serves to increase the international community’s resolve to counter the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) prohibited activities, including through implementing existing U.N. Security Council sanctions,” he said.

Ross added that the US plans to raise the issue at the UN, and reiterated that the Seoul-Washington alliance remains “ironclad.”

The missile launch came on the day the allies concluded the large-scale joint naval drill “Invincible Spirit” program against the North. The US deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to the Korean Peninsula for the drill.

The South Korean government had assessed that the North was likely to carry out a form of armed protest on its ruling party’s foundation day of Oct. 10, although the speculation turned out to be inaccurate.

Military officials said that the North’s most recent provocation may be a form of protest against the US, particularly its recent comment on Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong-un.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said Wednesday that Kim could have a plan to “conduct a nuclear attack and then immediately die.”

Pyongyang’s official Korea Central News Agency on Saturday said the comment hurt the dignity of its leader and said the US will “have to pay a high price.”

Saturday’s launch marks the first time since June 22 that the hermit kingdom fired the Musudan, which has been deployed since 2007 but was never fired prior to April this year.

Musudan is believed to have a maximum range of 3,500 kilometers, which puts the US military base in Guam within its striking range.

After five consecutive failures, the June test launch had been assessed as a successful one. But another failure of the Musudan presents doubts about the reliability of the missile.

North Korea’s ultimate goal has been to acquire nuclear strike capacity that can reach the US mainland. It conducted a ground test for a new rocket engine last month, which the military believes is a measure to complete its intercontinental ballistic missile program.

The defense and foreign ministers of South Korea and the US are slated to hold a meeting Wednesday, ahead of the Security Consultative Meeting between the two countries Thursday.

The top officials are expected to discuss mainly countermeasures against North Korean nuclear programs, and the upcoming transfer of wartime operational control, based on the US providing extended deterrence against the North’s ever-growing threats.

Officials are also to hold a briefing on the ongoing plans to deploy the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in Seoul, which has sparked off disputes within and outside the country.

They will reiterate that it is strictly for defending against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and that it will not target any other country, which has been a key concern of US’s biggest rival China.
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