- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2017

In its first major provocation since Donald Trump became president, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile early Sunday into the sea off its east coast, prompting swift condemnations from South Korea and Japan.

While military sources said the test was not of an intercontinental missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, it prompted a flurry of late-night activity in Florida, where President Trump was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two leaders appeared at a hastily called joint press conference Saturday night at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, with Mr. Abe telling reporters that the launch was “absolutely intolerable” and Mr. Trump saying the U.S. stands behind Japan “100 percent.”

In South Korea, meanwhile, Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said his country will punish the North for carrying out the launch.

The South Korea foreign ministry said Seoul will continue to work with allies, including the U.S., Japan and the European Union, to ensure a thorough implementation of sanctions against the North to make it realize it will “never be able to survive” without discarding all of its nuclear and missile programs.

South Korean military leaders asserted in a statement that North Korea had conducted the test-launch as a calculated move aimed at “showing off its nuclear and missile capabilities in protest against the new U.S. government.”

“The missile launch is a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message, according to the Yonhap news agency in Seoul.

Yonhap said the ballistic missile was presumed to be an intermediate-range Musudan or a mid-range Rodong. The news agency cited the Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying the missile had flown about 500 kilometers before splashing into waters east of the Korean Peninsula about 7:55 a.m. Sunday morning local time, and that “Seoul and Washington” were conducting a joint analysis.

U.S. military officials said they believe the test was of a “medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile” that posed no immediate threat to North America. “The missile was tracked over North Korea and into the Sea of Japan,” U.S. Strategic Command said in a statement late Saturday night.

Neither President Trump nor Mr. Abe took questions in Florida during their press conference, which lasted less than three minutes.

North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable,” said Mr. Abe. “North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

“During the summit meeting that I had with President Trump, he assured me that the United States will always [be with] Japan 100 percent,” the Japanese prime minister said. “To demonstrate his determination as well as commitment, he is here with me at this joint press conference.”

Mr. Trump did not address the North Korean missile launch specifically, but said: “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, it’s great ally, 100 percent.”

There was no immediate confirmation of the launch from North Korea, although Pyongyang had recently warned it was ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The North is also slated to mark the birthday of dictator Kim Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il, during the coming days — a celebration that has in past years coincided with missile tests and other provocations.

Pyongyang has been relatively quiet about the transfer of power to the Trump administration. But The Associated Press noted Saturday night that North Korean state media has repeatedly called for Washington to abandon its “hostile policy” and vowed to continue its nuclear and missile development programs until the U.S. changes its diplomatic approach.

Just days ago, Pyongyang also reaffirmed its plan to conduct more space launches, which it staunchly defends but which have been criticized because they involve dual use technology that can be transferred to improve missiles.

Kim Dong-yeop, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, speculated the missile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland, the AP reported.


Dave Boyer and Carlo Muñoz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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