North Korea fires medium-range ballistic missile into sea
North Korea has fired a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea, days after leader Kim Jong Un ordered tests aimed at developing technology to build a missile capable of reaching the US mainland.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile flew 500 miles before crashing off the North's east coast.
A South Korean defence official said it was the first medium-range missile launched by the North since April 2014 when it fired two.
A senior US defence official said the Pentagon could confirm North Korea conducted a ballistic missile launch into the Sea of Japan. The official said it appears to have been a Nodong medium-range ballistic missile launched from a mobile launcher.
He said the test is a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
The launch came amid a heightened international stand-off over the North's weapons programme after a nuclear test and long-range rocket launch earlier this year.
In recent weeks, Pyongyang has threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Washington and Seoul and test-fired short-range missiles and artillery into the sea in response to tough UN sanctions imposed over its nuclear test and rocket launch.
The North says it needs nuclear weapons to cope with what it calls US military threats.
On Tuesday, North Korea's state media said Kim had ordered tests of a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying warheads. Kim issued that order while overseeing a successful simulated test of a re-entry vehicle aimed at returning a nuclear warhead into the atmosphere from space so it could hit its intended target.
This led South Korean analysts to suspect that the North would fire a missile soon to test the re-entry technology.
Some analysts had also predicted the North might fire a missile carrying an empty warhead, which contain trigger devices but lack plutonium or uranium, to see if the warhead's parts can survive the high pressure and temperatures of re-entry into the atmosphere and if they were able to detonate at the right time.
Experts say it is the last major technology North Korea must master to achieve its goal of developing a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
South Korean defence officials said North Korea had not yet acquired re-entry technology so it does not yet have a functioning intercontinental ballistic missile.