- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2017

Regime forces in North Korea have again test-launched a mid- to long-range intercontinental ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan Friday, which is the second major test by Pyongyang of such a weapon this year.

Pentagon officials confirmed that U.S. forces monitored the missile launch and the weapon was a nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

“The U.S. Department of Defense detected and tracked a single North Korea missile launch today. … We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected,” a Pentagon statement said.

Launched from Mupyong-ni in northern central North Korea, the missile traveled roughly 1,000 kilometers or more than 600 miles before crash landing in the Sea of Japan, U.S. defense officials said.

“The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” the statement added, noting that Pentagon officials are working with the U.S. intelligence community to gain further insight into the capabilities of the missile.

Officials from Japan and South Korea also confirmed the North Korean test. Military officials in Seoul said the launch originated from North Korea’s northern Jagang province, local reports stated.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened an emergency meeting of the country’s national security council in response to Pyongyang’s actions.

“I have received information that North Korea once again conducted a missile firing,” Mr. Abe said Friday, The Associated Press reported. “We will immediately analyze information and do our utmost to protect the safety of the Japanese people.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, held an emergency call with South Korea’s top military officer, Gen. Lee Sun Jin, to discuss Friday’s missile launch and the implications and possible military action.

“During the call, [Gen.] Dunford and [Adm.] Harris expressed the ironclad commitment to the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance,” Joint Chiefs spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks said.

“The three leaders also discussed military response options,” he added in a statement released late Friday.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black roundly condemned the missile launch, noting the test only highlighted the growing threat posed to the U.S. and its allies from the North Korean regime.

“It is our responsibility in Congress to protect our citizens and hold North Korea accountable for their actions. This latest ballistic missile launch continues North Korea’s alarming escalation of aggressive acts, and we will not tolerate it,” she said in a statement Friday.

Friday’s launch comes weeks after North Korea’s first successful test of a nuclear-capable, long-range ballistic missile. The July 3rd test of the Hwangsong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile flew higher and further than any previous test shots taken by North Korean forces, U.S. and South Korean officials confirmed.

Traveling a distance of over 500 miles and reaching a peak height of 1,700 miles, the 37-minute test shot ended when the missile landed in the East Sea off the Japanese coastline. While technologically significant, the missile shot also sent a clear signal to Washington, Tokyo and Seoul that Pyongyang is inching ever closer to a missile capable of hitting across the Pacific and possibly into the United States.

Friday’s test is yet another reminder that the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un will continue to provoke the U.S. and its Asia allies in its pursuit to become an nuclear power, despite economic and diplomatic efforts to curb those ambitions.

“North Korea will continue to test over and over again its missile technology and nuclear weapons in the months and years to come in order to develop the most lethal systems it can. And you can bet every time they do tensions will continue to rise,” Harry Kazianis, director of Defense Studies from the Center for the National Interest, said Friday.

“This is what makes the situation on the Korean Peninsula as dangerous as it is,” he added.

But U.S. defense officials have repeatedly touted the viability of the country’s ballistic missile apparatus in the wake of North Korea’s aggressive actions, saying the constellation of missile interceptors and weapons in the U.S. missile shield are fully capable of handling any threat from Pyongyang or elsewhere against American shores.

Critics of the administration, however, argue North Korea’s continued pursuit of a viable ballistic missile proves the administration’s tough rhetoric over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions and White House efforts to cajole China into curbing its client state’s efforts to develop a long-range ballistic arsenal, have done little to stop the North Korean regime from pressing forward.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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