By Park Chan-Kyong
Seoul (AFP) Nov 29, 2017
North Korea on Wednesday test-fired a missile that could bring the entire continental United States within range, ramping up its nuclear strike threat in a major challenge to President Donald Trump.
The intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch snapped a two-month pause in testing by the North and caused deep consternation in Japan and South Korea.
An initial Pentagon assessment said the missile flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before splashing down within Japan's maritime Economic Exclusion Zone.
At least one expert said its lofted trajectory suggested an actual range of 13,000 kilometres -- longer than that of any previous test and one that would extend to every major US city.
The North said it would make an "important announcement" at 0330 GMT, in a broadcast on state-run radio that gave no further details, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
Trump, who recently announced fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and returned it to a US list of state sponsors of terror, was measured in his immediate response, as the UN Security Council agreed to meet in emergency session.
"I will only tell you that we will take care of it," Trump said at the White House. "It is a situation that we will handle," he added, without elaborating.
US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, stressed that diplomatic options to resolving the crisis remained "viable and open."
But North Korea's immediate neighbours were less restrained, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling the test an intolerable, "violent" act and South Korean President Moon Jae-In condemning Pyongyang's "reckless" behaviour.
It was the first missile test of any kind since September 15, and squashed speculation that the North may have held back in order to open the door to a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff.
- Global strike threat -
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it marked a significant step toward North Korea building missiles that can "threaten everywhere in the world, basically."
Trump insisted there would be no change to his administration's "maximum pressure campaign" which has sought to curb Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme with tightened sanctions backed by dire warnings of massive retaliation in the event of any attack.
It was the North's third successful ICBM test and David Wright, an arms control expert and co-director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the flight parameters pointed to a "significantly longer" range than previous launches.
"Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States," he said.
While Pyongyang has yet to prove its mastery of the re-entry technology required to bring a warhead back through the Earth's atmosphere, experts say it is on the threshold of developing a working intercontinental nuclear strike capability.
"We don't have to like it, but we're going to have to learn to live with North Korea's ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons," said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies.
- Competing strategies -
Tensions over the North's weapons programme peaked after Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and then fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan.
China, the North's main ally, has pushed for a "dual track approach" to the crisis which would see the United States freeze its military drills in South Korea while North Korea would halt its weapons programmes.
Washington has rejected that approach, and last week unveiled new sanctions targeting North Korean shipping, as well a number of Chinese companies doing business with the pariah state.
But the North responded defiantly, vowing to continue building up its nuclear force and warning that sanctions would never succeed.
Drumming up support for a tough stance against North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions was the main focus of Trump's marathon tour of Asia earlier this month.
The US leader spoke by phone with both Abe and Moon after Wednesday's test to underline the global threat posed by North Korea.
Trump is close to Abe, but relations with his South Korean counterpart -- whom he has accused of appeasing Pyongyang -- are far cooler, and there are concerns in Seoul that the US president might be considering military action against the North that could trigger a full-scale war.
"The situation could get out of control," Moon warned during a hastily convened meeting with national security officials on Wednesday.
"We have to prevent such a scenario where the North may miscalculate the situation and threaten us with nuclear weapons, or the US may consider a pre-emptive strike," he said.
Seoul is home to 10 million people and only about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the border -- well within range of Pyongyang's artillery.
Key steps in North Korea's missile development
Here are the key steps in the development of the regime's banned weapons and nuclear programme.
- The beginnings, 1970s -
North Korea starts working in the late 1970s on a version of the Soviet Scud-B with a range of around 300 kilometres (around 200 miles), carrying out a first test in 1984.
Between 1987 and 1992 it begins developing longer range missiles, including the Taepodong-1 (2,500 km) and Taepodong-2 (6,700 km).
The Taepodong-1 is test-fired over Japan in 1998 but the following year Pyongyang declares a moratorium on such tests as ties with the United States improve.
- First nuclear test in 2006 -
It ends the moratorium in 2005, blaming the Bush administration's "hostile" policy, and carries out its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006.
In May 2009, there is a second underground nuclear test, several times more powerful than the first. Kim Jong-Un succeeds his father Kim Jong-Il, who dies in December 2011, and oversees a third nuclear test in 2013.
- 2016, Japanese waters reached -
There is a fourth underground nuclear test in January 2016, which Pyongyang claims is a hydrogen bomb.
In March, Kim Jong-Un claims the North has successfully miniaturised a thermo-nuclear warhead and in April it test-fires a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
On August 3, it fires, for the first time, a ballistic missile directly into Japanese-controlled waters; later that month it successfully test-fires another submarine-launched ballistic missile.
There is a fifth nuclear test on September 9.
- 2017, Japan and Guam under threat -
Between February and May, the North tests a series of ballistic missiles that fall into the Sea of Japan or that it claims are exercises to hit US bases in Japan.
A test on May 14 is of a "newly developed mid/long-range strategic ballistic rocket, Hwasong-12", Pyongyang says. It flies 700 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan.
Ahead of the first meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-In and US President Donald Trump, the North tests a rocket engine that could be fitted to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The following month it says it has successfully tested an ICBM capable of reaching Alaska, a gift for the "American bastards". There is a second successful ICBM test on July 28.
Hours after Trump threatens Pyongyang with "fire and fury" over its missile programme, the North says it is considering strikes near US strategic military installations in Guam.
On August 29, it fires a ballistic missile over Japan that Tokyo says is an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat".
- Largest nuclear test yet -
On September 3, North Korea conducts its sixth and largest nuclear test. Monitoring groups estimate a yield of 250 kilotons, which is 16 times the size of the 15-kiloton US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
On September 15, less than a week after the UN adopts an eighth series of sanctions, North Korea fires a intermediate-range missile over Japan, at a distance of 3,700 kilometres (2,299 miles), according to Seoul.
On November 20 Washington declares North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, a day before it heaps pressure on the hermit state by slapping it with fresh sanctions.
On November 28 North Korea fires a new ballistic missile, which flies east from South Pyongan Province, the South Korean military Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) says.
Ottawa (AFP) Nov 18, 2017
The general in command of US nuclear forces said Saturday that he would resist any "illegal" presidential order for a strike and work to find an alternative. President Donald Trump's history of unpredictable and volatile behavior has raised concerns that he could unilaterally order an unnecessary nuclear attack - an issue recently debated by members of the US Senate. "We think about the ... read more
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