As confirmed by the Pentagon, North Korea test-fired some kind of ballistic missile early Sunday morning.
US officials believe the weapon was a KN-17 medium-range ballistic missile. This was the first success in a series of four attempts to fire the weapon.
The KN-17 flew roughly 430 miles before splashing into the sea just 250 miles from Japanese shores. According to Japanese officials, the missile reached an unprecedented altitude of 1,200 miles.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the missile test a “grave threat” to his nation and reaffirmed his commitment to working with South Korea and the US in response.
North Korea insists the missile was capable of carrying a nuke, but this claim has yet to be verified.
“The test-fire aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” reports the North’s official KCNA news agency. “If the US awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK, it will not escape from the biggest disaster in the history.”
US officials believe North Korea plans to use the KN-17 to target ships, but Kim Jong-un has warned Washington not to misjudge the reality that the US mainland is in Pyongyang’s “sighting range for strike.”
The surprise launch follows Moon Jae-in’s election in South Korea and comes directly after a top North Korean diplomat suggested that Pyongyang would be open to negotiations with the US.
Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea takes on the world, believes the timing of the launch is meant to influence upcoming negotiations with the US and South Korea.
“I think the North Koreans right now think that this is a perfect time for them to really corral the international community, including the United States, get them to sit down, and to do what North Korea wants.”
Moon Jae-in is the first liberal president to be elected in South Korea in nearly a decade. He has expressed a desire to improve relations and even send aid to his northern neighbor, but this launch may jeopardize that attitude.
“The president expressed deep regret over the fact that this reckless provocation…occurred just days after a new government was launched in South Korea,” said senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan. “The president said we are leaving open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but we should sternly deal with a provocation to prevent North Korea from miscalculating.”
Meanwhile, troops from the US, Japan, and two European countries are gathering near Guam for joint drills that are in part a warning to North Korea. The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is also engaging with South Korean ships in waters off the peninsula.
The UNSC plans to meet Tuesday to discuss Pyongyang’s latest launch.
Editor’s note: This is not surprising given the story yesterday that North Korea may be willing to engage in talks. With Trump’s attack on Syria (because of the use of chemical weapons), the U.S. is working from a position of strengh. North Korea wants to start talks in the strongest possible position and is making a show of it.