North Korea Launches a Missile, Its First Test After an Election in the South
By CHOE SANG-HUN MAY 13, 2017 The New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday, the first test since a new president took office in South Korea this past week and called for dialogue with the North.
The missile took off from the northwestern city of Kusong and flew more than 430 miles before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan, the South Korean military said in a statement. Data on the launch was still being analyzed by the South to determine the type of missile.
Saying that North Korea had been “a flagrant menace for far too long,” the White House said in a statement late Saturday in Washington that the test served “as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions” against Pyongyang.
“The United States maintains our ironclad commitment to stand with our allies in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea,” the statement said.
It also noted that the missile had fallen closer to Russia than Japan, adding that “the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.”
Russia, a Cold War-era ally of North Korea, is a member of the so-called six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal in return for diplomatic and economic benefits. The forum, first begun in 2003, has been stalled since 2008.
The missile on Sunday reached an altitude of more than 1,245 miles during its 30-minute flight time, the Japanese government said. That data, combined with the announcement by South Korea that the projectile covered a distance of 430 miles, showed that it was an intermediate-range ballistic missile that could target key United States military bases in the Pacific, including those in Guam, missile experts said.
The North’s launch took place as its biggest supporter, China, was hosting delegations from around the world at its “One Belt One Road” forum in Beijing. A North Korean delegation, led by its external trade minister, was also attending.
President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, who was at the forum, had a “fairly detailed talk” about the situation of the Korean Peninsula, including the North’s missile test, said Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
“Mutual concern was expressed about how this situation is developing, and about growing tensions,” Mr. Peskov said.
Hours after President Trump’s comment, Russia’s Defense Ministry said the North Korean missile posed “no danger” to Russia because it flew at a “significant distance” from the coast, Interfax said, citing a ministry statement.
Russia’s ballistic missile early-warning system tracked the North Korean missile for 23 minutes before it fell into the sea, about 310 miles off the Russian coast, while its air-defense systems were “on combat duty as usual,” the statement said.
This was the North’s first missile test since a launch on April 29 that was considered a failure, with the unidentified projectile exploding a few minutes after liftoff.
Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, the country is banned from developing or testing ballistic missiles.
In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in ordered an urgent meeting of top security officials during which he condemned the missile launch as “a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions” and ordered his military to be prepared for provocations by the North.
Mr. Moon, who won the presidential election on Tuesday, said the move was “deeply regrettable” only days after he took office calling for dialogue with the North.
“We keep our door open for dialogue with North Korea, but we must act decisively against North Korean provocations so that it will not miscalculate,” Mr. Moon was quoted as saying by his office. “We must show that dialogue is possible when the North changes its attitude.”
Mr. Moon also urged his military to speed up its development of an indigenous land-based ballistic missile defense system known as the Korea Air and Missile Defense.
After a series of North Korean missile tests, Mr. Moon’s ousted predecessor, Park Geun-hye, agreed to the deployment of an American missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, known as Thaad. Mr. Moon has questioned the technical and political usefulness of Thaad, whose deployment has angered China.
Mr. Moon’s victory on Tuesday brought South Korean liberals back to power. They favor dialogue with North Korea, saying that sanctions alone have not worked to stop its nuclear and missile threats.
North Korea has a history of raising tensions to strengthen its leverage when its foes have proposed negotiations or to test new leaders in Seoul or Washington.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan strongly protested the North’s action in comments to reporters.
Speaking on Sunday morning, Mr. Abe described the repeated missile launches as a “grave threat against Japan” and vowed to cooperate with the United States and South Korea.
The test on Sunday came one day after a senior North Korean diplomat said her government would be willing to meet with the Trump administration for negotiations “if the conditions are set.”
The diplomat, Choi Sun-hee, did not elaborate on what the North’s conditions were, but some former American officials have been considering the possibility of North Korea and the United States returning to serious negotiations for the first time since 2012.
The United States and North Korea announced an agreement that year in which Washington would provide food aid in exchange for a moratorium by the North on missile tests and uranium enrichment and its return to six-nation talks. But that deal quickly collapsed after the North fired a space rocket that American officials said was a test of missile technology.
Mr. Trump has said he would be “honored” to meet Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, under the right circumstances.
In its previous missile test from Kusong, North Korea launched what the Pentagon called “a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile” from the Banghyon air base on Feb. 12. The missile, which was identified as a Pukguksong-2, flew 310 miles. The test was conducted as Mr. Trump was hosting Japan’s prime minister, Mr. Abe, on an official visit.
North Korea has said its intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 could carry a nuclear payload. The missile was also fired from a mobile-launch vehicle and used a solid-fuel technology that missile experts say will make it easier to hide it and launch on short notice.
North Korea has been trying to build a reliable intermediate-range ballistic missile, which would be capable of reaching American military bases in the Pacific.
In a New Year’s Day speech, Mr. Kim said his country had reached a “final stage” in preparing to conduct its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Although North Korea has vowed to develop the ability to attack the United States with nuclear warheads and has tested missiles that can reach throughout the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity, it has never tested a long-range missile that could fly across the Pacific.
Tensions had appeared to be easing on the Korean Peninsula since joint South Korean-United States military exercises ended last month without North Korea conducting a nuclear test or launching one of its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Motoko Rich contributed reporting from Tokyo.