Monday 24 July 2017

Tensions mount after North Korea's launch of missile that can reach US

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un looks on during the test-fire of inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang,
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un looks on during the test-fire of inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang,

Chris Graham in Seoul

North Korea has claimed to have successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, a feat that would be the culmination of a decades-long ambition.

The "landmark" test of a Hwasong-14 missile was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un early yesterday, American Independence Day, a female announcer wearing traditional dress said in a special announcement on state Korean Central Television.

North Korea was "a strong nuclear power state" and had "a very powerful ICBM that can strike any place in the world", she said.

"The test launch was conducted at the sharpest angle possible and did not have any negative effect on neighbouring countries," North Korea's state media said in a statement.

Powerful

North Korea's test appeared to be its most successful yet, with experts saying it was powerful enough to reach Alaska.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who convened a national security council meeting, had earlier said the missile was believed to be an intermediate range type, but the military was also looking at the possibility it was an ICBM.

Shortly after the test, US President Donald Trump (below) mocked Mr Kim on Twitter and suggested China do more to rein in its neighbour.

"North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?" Mr Trump said, without mentioning Mr Kim by name. "Hard to believe that South Korea ... and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!"

Before entering the White House, Mr Trump dismissed North Korea's claim that it was in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US, saying "It won't happen!"

China called for calm and restraint after the test. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said UN Security Council resolutions had clear rules on North Korea's missile launches and China opposed it going against those rules.

The launch was part of a string of recent test-firings as the North works to build a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the US.

It sent the rocket 930km with a flight time of 39 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,802km. Officials say the duration of the flight means it would be longer than any other tests previously reported.

The fact it reached an altitude that "greatly exceeded" 2,500km prompted arms control specialist Jeffrey Lewis to respond on Twitter: "That's it. It's an ICBM. An ICBM that can hit Anchorage, not San Francisco, but still."

The missile landed in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Japanese government said, adding it had strongly protested what it called a clear violation of UN resolutions.

Read more: All are sleepwalking towards a conflict that can be avoided

In the US, the Defence Department said Pacific Command detected and tracked the launch of what it believed was a land-based, intermediate range ballistic missile from North Korea's Panghyon Airfield.

David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Programme at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said the assessments of the flight time and distance suggested the missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700km on a standard trajectory.

"That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska," he wrote in a blog post.

It was the fourth ballistic missile launched by the North since South Korea's President Moon took office in May, vowing to use dialogue as well as pressure to bring Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes under control.

Mr Trump has ramped up the rhetoric in recent weeks, declaring last week that the "era of strategic patience" with North Korea was over.

Fight

His tweets in response to the latest test alarmed some North Korea experts. Laura Rosenberger, a former State Department official, said: "Picking a Twitter fight with a nuclear-armed dictator is not wise - this is not reality TV anymore.

"Trump is playing with fire here - nuclear fire. He could literally get us in to a war with his tweets."

The missile launch comes as the Trump administration has displayed increasing frustration with China's reluctance to put more pressure on North Korea.

The 'New York Times', citing anonymous administration officials, reported on Monday that Mr Trump told the Chinese leader that the US was ready to act on its own against North Korea.

The North has in the past launched ballistic missiles timed to key diplomatic events and meetings of leaders. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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