- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2017

The Pentagon issued one of its harshest rebukes of North Korea’s recent successful round of ballistic missile tests Monday, characterizing the test and associated weapons program as an inherent threat to the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific.

North Korea’s missile test, conducted as President Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, marks one of the first direct foreign policy challenges facing the new U.S. administration.

Members of the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday over Sunday’s missile tests, at the request of the U.S., Japan and South Korea, approving a statement “very strongly” condemning Pyongyang’s ballistic missile launches and warning of “further significant measures” if the North doesn’t stop nuclear and missile testing.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the test was yet another example of “a further troubling violation of Security Council resolutions” banning Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development. “The [North Korean] leadership must return to full compliance with its international obligations and to the path of denuclearization,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement.

China, which remains North Korea’s only ally among the regional powers in the Pacific, publicly opposed the missile launch and vowed to work with the U.N. to find a constructive resolution. But top Chinese officials said the root of the problem wasn’t the North’s missile programs but the continuing tension between Washington and the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“All sides should exercise restraint and jointly maintain regional peace and security,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a briefing in Beijing.

North Korea’s Central News Agency said Mr. Kim was at the launch site to observe Sunday’s test and expressed pleasure at the North’s expansion of its strategic strike capabilities. The report early Monday also said Mr. Kim gave the order to fire the “Pukguksong-2,” which the agency described as a “Korean-style new-type strategic weapon system.”

The international scramble was sparked after weapons developers in Pyongyang successfully tested a new land-based version of the submarine-based Pukguksong-2 intermediate ballistic missile over the weekend. Fired from a launch facility in Banghyon, the new missile traveled 300 miles toward the Japanese coastline before crashing into international waters east of the Korean Peninsula.

The weapons facility in Banghyon was also the location for a series of test launches of the Musudan intercontinental ballistic missile in October, all of which failed. Both missiles are reportedly capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

On Monday Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said North Korea’s weapons development efforts presented a “clear and grave threat to national security.”

“[Pyongyang] has been open and transparent about their intent to develop this capability,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have been open about our intent to defeat it.”

He also questioned Pyongyang’s claims the weapons test was successful, noting the weapon crash-landed well short of Japanese territorial waters.

“If that was their intent, then it was a success. If it was not, you would have to ask them” why they claimed success, said Capt. Davis.

His comments echoed the swift condemnations from Japan and South Korea, made shortly after news of the missile tests surfaced on state-run news outlets inside North Korea.

News of the missile tests Sunday night sent U.S. and Japanese national security advisers attending the summit into a frenzy, as both sides worked frenetically to draft a joint rebuke of Pyongyang’s actions while Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe were dining.

At the time, President Trump only reiterated U.S. support for Japan, and senior administration officials offered only calculated remarks, saying the White House will develop a calibrated response to avoid a serious escalation of tensions in Northeast Asia. At a press conference Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Trump remained vague about his intentions.

North Korea is a big, big problem, and we will deal with that very strongly,” Mr. Trump said at the White House news conference.

For his part, Mr. Abe told reporters Sunday that the launch was “absolutely intolerable” and that North Korea “must fully comply with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions” that bar Pyongyang from developing or testing ballistic or nuclear missile technology.

Guy Taylor contributed to this report, which was also based in part on wire service reports.

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