Wednesday 20 September 2017

North Korea outlines plan for imminent missiles launch towards Guam

North Korea stands to lose around a third of its export revenue from the new sanctions (Lee Jin-man/AP/PA)
North Korea stands to lose around a third of its export revenue from the new sanctions (Lee Jin-man/AP/PA)

Eric Talmadge

North Korea has spelled out its plan to launch a volley of ballistic missiles towards Guam, dismissing US president Donald Trump's threats of "fire and fury" as "a load of nonsense".

The announcement, made in the name of a general who heads North Korea's rocket command, warned Pyongyang was preparing a plan to fire four of its Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan and into waters around Guam, the tiny US Pacific territory island which hosts 7,000 military personnel on two main bases and has a population of 160,000.

It said the plan could be finalised within a week or so and would then go to leader Kim Jong Un for approval.

It said it would be up to Kim whether the move is actually carried out and the missiles would hit waters 19 to 25 miles away from the island.

It is unclear whether North Korea would risk firing missiles so close to US territory, which could provoke counter-measures and further escalation.

North Korea frequently uses extremely bellicose rhetoric with warnings of military action to keep its adversaries on their heels.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gather for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square (Jon Chol Jin/AP)
Tens of thousands of North Koreans gather for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square (Jon Chol Jin/AP)

It generally couches its threats with language stating it will not attack the United States unless it has been attacked first or has determined an attack is imminent.

But the statement raised worries amid a barrage of threats from both sides.

Following reports that US intelligence suggests the North might be able to pair a nuclear warhead with a missile capable of reaching targets on the United States mainland, Mr Trump warned North Korea that "it faces retaliation with fire and fury unlike any the world has seen before".

North Korea immediately called Mr Trump's rhetoric a "load of nonsense" that was aggravating a grave situation.

Pyongyang has been louder in its complaints against a new and tough round of sanctions imposed on it by the United Nations, with strong US backing, and Washington's use of Guam as a staging ground for its stealth bombers, which could be used to attack North Korea.

The North Korean report said the Hwasong-12 rockets would fly over Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi regions in Japan and travel "1,065 seconds before hitting the waters 30 to 40 kilometres away from Guam".

It said the Korean People's Army Strategic Force would finalise the plan by mid-August, present it to Kim and "wait for his order".

"We keep closely watching the speech and behaviour of the US," it said.

Television news coverage showing archive footage of a North Korean missile launch is broadcast on a public screen in Seoul on March 6, 2017.
Nuclear-armed North Korea fired four ballistic missiles east of the peninsula, with Japan saying three of them landed in its waters. Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile last month -- its first such launch since October -- which Seoul said was aimed at testing the response from the new US administration of President Donald Trump.
/ AFP PHOTO / YONHAP / STR / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE STR/AFP/Getty Images
Television news coverage showing archive footage of a North Korean missile launch is broadcast on a public screen in Seoul on March 6, 2017. Nuclear-armed North Korea fired four ballistic missiles east of the peninsula, with Japan saying three of them landed in its waters. Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile last month -- its first such launch since October -- which Seoul said was aimed at testing the response from the new US administration of President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / YONHAP / STR / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE STR/AFP/Getty Images

Such a move would not merely be a test launch, but a demonstration of military capabilities in a manner than could easily lead to severe consequences.

If North Korea were to actually carry out such a launch - even if it aimed at hitting the waters off Guam and not the island itself - that would clearly pose a potential threat to US territory and put the United States in a much more complicated situation than it has been during previous missile launches.

Guam lies about 2,100 miles from the Korean Peninsula and it is extremely unlikely Kim's government would risk annihilation with a pre-emptive attack on US citizens. It is also unclear how reliable North Korea's missiles would be against such a distant target, but no one was writing off the danger completely.

Washington has been testing its missile defences in response to the North's stepped-up development and the current escalation of tensions could lead to pressure for the US military to try to shoot down Pyongyang's missiles in mid-flight if they were heading towards Guam.

That is likely to open up a set of very major problems, including the possibility of both a very high-profile failure or a miscalculation of Washington's intentions and a more deadly pre-emptive strike by the North - which has missiles able to hit Tokyo and conventional weapons that could devastate South Korea's capital Seoul.

The Hweasong-12, which was revealed for the first time at a military parade in April, is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that is believed to have a range of more than 2,300 miles.

It can be fired from mobile launchers, making it hard to detect and destroy on the ground.

By launching a volley of four, the North would be attempting to make it harder for the US to intercept all of the incoming missiles.

Trump has said that conflict with North Korea is possible
Trump has said that conflict with North Korea is possible

Washington, meanwhile, has been giving out mixed signals of what its intensions might be.

While Mr Trump was threatening annihilation and boasting from the New Jersey golf resort where he is on holiday that he has made the US nuclear arsenal "far stronger and more powerful than ever before", secretary of state Rex Tillerson sought to calm the sense of crisis.

Speaking on his way home from Asia, he insisted the US was not signalling a move towards military action.

"Americans should sleep well at night," he told reporters.

But defence Secretary Jim Mattis ratcheted the rhetoric back up, calling on Pyongyang to "cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people".

Meanwhile General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the North Korea's strategic rocket forces, became the latest critic of Mr Trump's working holiday, accusing him of acting senile while "on the golf links again".

He said Mr Trump was "extremely getting on the nerves" of his soldiers by making comments that showed his "senility" again, adding: "Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason who is going senile."

Press Association

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