(USA Today) Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — North Korea’s latest test launch yesterday (May 21) was a medium-range ballistic missile that has a shorter range than others fired by the communist regime in recent months, the White House said.
The South Korean military said the projectile was launched Sunday afternoon Korean time from the vicinity of Pukchang, an area north of the capital Pyongyang most notable for its hard-labor camp for political prisoners.
The rocket flew eastward about 310 miles, South Korea said. US Pacific Command tracked the missile before it landed in the Sea of Japan, said the spokesman, Cmdr. David Benham. He said the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assessed that the launch did not pose a threat to North America, but emphasized that US officials were watching closely to protect allies in the region.
“US Pacific Command stands behind our ironclad commitment to the security of our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan,” Benham said.
News of the latest missile test came as President Trump was on his first foreign trip as president, meeting with Arab leaders in Riyadh. Among other issues, Trump was trying to reassure moderate Muslim leaders that the US would not tolerate similarly provocative missile tests by Iran.
The launch came a week after North Korea successfully tested a new midrange missile that it said could carry a heavy nuclear warhead.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News yesterday that it was too early to determine whether economic and diplomatic pressures being placed on North Korea have had an impact yet.
“Hopefully they will get the message that the path of continuing their nuclear arms program is not a pathway to security or certainly prosperity. The ongoing testing is disappointing. It’s disturbing,” Tillerson said.
North Korea has been stepping up its provocative test-launches in recent months, attempting to develop a missile with the range and payload capacity to reach the United States with a nuclear warhead. The tests have led the Trump administration to seek closer ties with China in order to counter the threat.
“We’re all aware of the provocative actions they’ve taken, and there have been cautions given them by nations from around the world. They clearly aren’t listening,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Friday. “If this goes to a military solution, it is going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale, and so our effort is to work with the UN, work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation.”
The United Nations Security Council will hold a closed-door session tomorrow to discuss yesterday’s rocket test, the Associated Press reported.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called yesterday’s launch a “challenge to the world” that tramples international efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile problems peacefully, and vowed to bring up the issue as the “main agenda” of this week’s G-7 summit of world leaders in Italy.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the North’s latest launch “throws cold water” on the expectations by the government of South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, to “stabilize peace and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.”
Moon, a liberal who took office on May 10, had said he wanted to reach out to the North, so the missile test could present a challenge for him.
“Our government is open to the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but will also maintain a stance of firmly responding to provocations,” the foreign ministry said.
Top: This is a test launch of the ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. This picture was taken on May 14, 2017 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency. Photo: AFP/Getty Images via USA Today
Inset: People gather at a street-side newsstand in Pyongyang and read a copy of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper featuring coverage of a rocket test on May 14, 2017. Photo: Kim Won-Jin, AFP/Getty Images via USA Today