WASHINGTON (AP) -- North Korea abruptly ended a 10-week pause in its weapons testing Tuesday by launching what the Pentagon said was an intercontinental ballistic missile -- apparently its longest-range test yet -- a move that will escalate already high tensions with Washington.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers before landing in the Sea of Japan within 370 nautical kilometers of Japan’s coast. It flew for 53 minutes, Japan’s defense minister said.
South Korea, a key US ally separated from the North by a highly militarized border, responded with shorter-range missile tests of its own to mimic striking the North Korea launch site, which it said lies not far from the North Korean capital.
The launch, in the wee hours Wednesday in Asia, is North Korea’s first since it fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan on Sept. 15, and it appeared to shatter chances that the hiatus could lead to renewed diplomacy over the reclusive country’s nuclear program. US officials have sporadically floated the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it maintained restraint.
An intercontinental ballistic missile test is considered particularly provocative, and indications it flew higher than past launches suggest progress by Pyongyang in developing a weapon of mass destruction that could strike the US mainland. President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from having that capability -- using military force if necessary.
In response to the launch, Trump said the United States will “take care of it.” He told reporters: “It is a situation that we will handle.” He did not elaborate.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday afternoon at the request of Japan, the US and South Korea.
Manning said the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, “determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America, our territories or our allies.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile flew higher than previous projectiles.
“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken,’‘ he told reporters at the White House. “It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world.”
If flown on a standard trajectory rather than at a lofted angle, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles), said US scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States,’‘ Wright wrote in a blog post for the Union for Concerned Scientists.
A big unknown, however, is the missile’s payload. If, as expected, it carried a light mock warhead, then its effective range would have been shorter, analysts said.
A week ago, the Trump administration declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, further straining ties between governments that are still technically at war. Washington also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North.
North Korea called the terror designation a “serious provocation” that justifies its development of nuclear weapons.
In response to the North Korean test, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korea conducted a “precision-strike’‘ drill, firing three missiles, including one with a 1,000-kilometer range, to accurately hit a target that stood for the North Korean launch site. South Korea’s presidential office said it was holding a National Security Council meeting Wednesday morning local time to discuss the launch.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its strong alliance with the US.
“We will not tolerate North Korea’s reckless action,” he told reporters.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that North Korea was “indiscriminately threatening its neighbors, the region and global stability.’‘ He urged the international community to not only implement existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea but also to consider additional measures for interdicting maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the country.
Trump has ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on the North to prevent its development of a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland. So far, the pressure has failed to get North Korea’s totalitarian government, which views a nuclear arsenal as key to its survival, to return to long-stalled international negotiations on its nuclear program.
“Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” Tillerson said, adding the US remains committed to “finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.”