North Korea launched a missile Sunday in an unusual high-altitude ballistic path that indicated it might be a new two-stage liquid-fueled rocket capable of flying up to 4,500 kilometers.
The test, according to a White House statement, should “serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea.”
Earlier, Japan and South Korea quickly condemned North Korea’s action as a grave threat to the region and a violation of U.N. resolutions about North Korea’s arms programs.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, ordered his government to “prepare for all possible contingencies,” according to his office.
“The launch of such ballistic missiles is a serious threat to our country. The defense ministry and the self-defense forces are continuing to work closely with the United States and South Korea to collect and analyze the information,” Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters in Tokyo. “We will make every effort to ensure the peace and security of our country.”
She explained it was possibly a new type of missile that was fired in a high-angle orbit, reaching an altitude of more than 2,000 kilometers and flying for 30 minutes, before coming down in the Sea of Japan after a total flight of about 700 kilometers.
China called for restraint to avoid increasing tensions in the region while the Foreign Ministry expressed opposition to Pyongyang’s violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Beijing is North Korea’s only major ally and Pyongyang’s key trading partner.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is in Beijing for an international summit, expressed concern about the missile test and the escalation of tensions, according to a Kremlin spokesman.
The splash-down point was about 400 kilometers from the east coast of North Korea, according to the Japanese government.
Scientists: Not an ICBM
“This is kind of a big deal. But it’s not an ICBM. That’s the good news,” Union of Concerned Scientists co-director David Wright told VOA.
If flown on a standard trajectory, the missile fired by North Korea Sunday morning would have a range of up to 4,500 kilometers, according to Wright.
Guam, an American territory with two large U.S. military bases, is 3,400 kilometers from North Korea and until now had been considered beyond the range of the most powerful rocket North Korea is known to have developed, the Musudan, with a range of about 3,000 kilometers.
With this test, North Korea may have leapfrogged its troubled Musudan series of missiles.
“It would put together things we’ve seen them doing that they haven’t been able to put together,” Wright said.
South Korea, US weigh in
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, sworn in just days ago, denounced the launch as a “reckless provocation” by Pyongyang. Meeting in Seoul with his top advisers, Moon said the timing of the launch was particularly regrettable, coming so soon after his inauguration and his pledge to try to improve ties with the North.
The U.S. Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, confirmed the rocket launch but said the unidentified projectile did not appear to be large enough to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon that North Korea says it is developing.
President Donald Trump was briefed about the North Korean launch on the telephone by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, a White House official told VOA news.
The White House statement, which said “North Korea has been a flagrant menace for far too long” also seemed to make an indirect appeal to Moscow for stronger cooperation to counter Pyongyang.
“With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil — in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan — the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” according to the White House statement issued late Saturday.
Pyongyang addresses Washington
Just one day earlier, a senior North Korean diplomat had said Pyongyang would be willing to talk with the United States about the two countries’ disputes, under the right conditions.
Choe Son Hui, the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s director general for U.S. affairs, raised the issue of talks when she spoke with reporters in Beijing while returning home from a trip to Norway.
“We’ll have dialogue if the conditions are there,” Choe said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. While in Oslo, Choe met with American academics and former U.S. officials.
Some analysts dismissed Choe’s comment as a long-stated position of Pyongyang, along with its constant belligerent rhetoric toward Washington and Seoul.
After another diplomatic crisis last month triggered by North Korean missile tests, Trump had warned there was a possible “major, major conflict” brewing with Pyongyang, but that he hoped for a diplomatic solution to the dispute over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
The U.S. president later said he would be willing to meet with the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, under the right circumstances.
In the aftermath of the latest North Korean missile launch, meanwhile, American, European and Japanese military units gathered for war games in a group of remote U.S. islands in the Pacific Ocean. The exercises are meant to warn North Korea not to test the allies’ military might.