North Korea firing nuclear-capable missile in Japan sea 'unforgivable'
Japan's prime minister condemned an "unforgivable act" on Wednesday when North Korea fired two nuclear-capable missiles towards his country, one of which landed within 200 miles of the coast.
The Rodong medium-range missiles were launched in breach of a series of United Nations resolutions. One exploded soon after take-off; another flew eastwards for about 600 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan.
The United Nations Security Council was meeting last night to discuss the latest missile launch after the United States and Japan requested the meeting, diplomats said.
This was among the longest-range missile tests that North Korea has ever conducted. It was also one of the rare launches aimed towards Japan.
The Japanese government confirmed that one Rodong landed inside the country's "exclusive economic zone" - or within 200 nautical miles of its coastline.
"It imposes a serious threat to Japan's security and it is an unforgivable act of violence toward Japan's security," said Shinzo Abe, the prime minister.
The Rodong missile, which has a maximum range of about 900 miles, could be modified to carry a nuclear warhead. North Korea has tested four nuclear bombs since 2006, most recently in January this year.
Experts differ over whether North Korea has developed a "miniaturised" nuclear warhead capable of being loaded on a missile. But South Korea's government believes that the North has crossed this crucial threshold.
A study published by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in the US concluded that North Korea has between six and eight nuclear warheads.
America condemned the latest missile tests. "This provocation only serves to increase the international community's resolve to counter [North Korea's] prohibited activities, including through implementing existing UN Security Council sanctions," said Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.
North Korea is also developing an inter-continental ballistic missile known as the Taepodong-2. If this weapon is perfected, Kim Jong-un's regime would be able to launch a nuclear strike on the US mainland.
North Korea has recently claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in its goal of developing a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental US. South Korean defense officials say North Korea doesn't yet have such a weapon, but some civilian experts believe the North has the technology to mount warheads on shorter-range Rodong and Scud missiles that can strike South Korea and Japan.
According to the South Korean and Japanese announcements, one suspected Rodong missile lifted off from the North's western Hwanghae province and flew across the country before falling in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it "strongly condemns" the missile launch because it explicitly shows the North's intentions of being able to launch missile attacks on South Korea and neighboring countries.
Japan's Defense Ministry said the missile landed inside Japan's exclusive economic zone, the 200-nautical mile offshore area where a nation has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources. Japanese media reported it was the first North Korean missile that has splashed down in Japan's EEZ.
At the United Nations, US Ambassador Samantha Power said that "we expect to be calling an emergency meeting of the Security Council with our Japanese colleagues".
The Pentagon condemned the launches as violating UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea's use of ballistic missile technology.
"This provocation only serves to increase the international community's resolve to counter (North Korea's) prohibited activities, including through implementing existing UN Security Council sanctions," said Navy Cmdr Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.
North Korea has previously fired Rodong and other missiles into the sea, but South Korean analysts say yesterday's 1,000km flight was one of the longest for a North Korean test.
Several other North Korean rockets have gone farther and even over Japan. But North Korea called them satellite launches while Washington, Seoul and Tokyo said they were disguised tests of missile technology. After several failures, the North put its first satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket in December 2012, and conducted another successful satellite launch in February.
In June, North Korea, after a string of failures, sent another type of mid-range missile known as Musudan more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) high. Analysts said the high-altitude flight meant North Korea had made progress in its push to be able to strike US forces throughout the region.
North Korea routinely conducts weapons tests, but the latest launch came after North Korea warned of unspecified "physical counter-actions" against a US plan to deploy an advanced missile defense system in South Korea by the end of next year.
On July 19, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the sea, according to Seoul defense officials. The North's state media later confirmed that it fired ballistic rockets carrying trigger devices for nuclear warheads as part of simulated pre-emptive atomic attacks on South Korea.
Analyst Kim Dong-yub at Seoul's Institute for Far East Studies said the latest Rodong launch appeared to be aimed at showing an ability to attack U.S. military bases in Japan, a major source of reinforcements for U.S. troops should a war break out on the Korean Peninsula.