National

North Korean leader says more to come as U.N. condemns missile launch over Japan

by Jesse Johnson and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

North Korea said Wednesday that the missile it launched over Japan on Tuesday was an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 and that the drill — meant to counter U.S.-South Korean war games — had involved military units “tasked with striking the bases” of American forces in the Pacific.

More such drills are in store for the U.S. and its allies, the North said.

The nuclear-armed North sent the missile flying over Hokkaido on Tuesday morning, the first unannounced launch over Japan of a missile designed to carry a nuclear payload. It flew more than 2,700 km before plunging into the Pacific Ocean about 1,180 km east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo.

The United Nations Security Council denounced the launch, unanimously demanding that Pyongyang halt its missile and nuclear programs.

Following an emergency closed-door session called by the United States and Japan, Tokyo’s envoy at the U.N. suggested that a new sanctions declaration could be issued.

“Next step starting now. We can’t predict the outcome, but I certainly hope it would be a strong resolution following this statement,” media reports quoted Ambassador Koro Bessho as saying.

But the North said the missile drills would continue — possibly including more overflights of Japan.

“It is necessary to positively push forward the work for putting the strategic force on a modern basis by conducting more ballistic rocket launching drills with the Pacific as a target in the future,” state-run media quoted leader Kim Jong Un as saying.

Tuesday’s launch had already elicited a furious response from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who called it an “unprecedented, grave and serious” threat.

It also prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to reiterate his stance that “all options” — an allusion to military action — remain on the table for reining in the isolated country.

Kim had for the first time overseen the drill, which apparently took place at a military airport in the capital, Pyongyang, and gave the order to launch the missile on a “preset flight track,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.

The missile “crossed the sky above Oshima peninsula of Hokkaido and Cape Erimo of Japan along the preset flight track and accurately hit the preset target waters in northern Pacific,” it said.

“The drill had no impact on the security of the neighboring countries,” it added.

The North had not acknowledged previous missile and rocket launches that overflew Japan, even taking pains to avoid doing so by sending shorter-range missiles into the Sea of Japan or “lofting” its test-firings on a steep trajectory.

The language used in Wednesday’s state media report was another key difference between this and prior launches: It described the firing as a “drill” and appeared to purposely omit any reference to “test” — a possible sign that the North had moved from testing to training.

The latest exercise, KCNA said, had involved units from the country’s Strategic Force “tasked with striking the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces located in the Pacific operational theater.”

The launch drill, the report added, had been in response to the annual joint U.S.-South Korean war games known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which Pyongyang views as a rehearsal for invasion. The U.S. and South Korea insist the exercises, mostly computerized, are purely defensive. They were due to wrap up Thursday.

The North also said the launch had been timed to mark the 107th anniversary of the  Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910, under which Tokyo began its colonization of the Korean Peninsula. By doing so, it said, Kim “gave vent to the long-pent grudge of the Korean people” with “a bold plan to make the cruel Japanese islanders insensible on bloody August 29.”

Timing aside, the drill was also a test of the regime’s ever-improving military capabilities, which it said “were all proved perfect.”

Kim was quoted as calling the exercise the North Korean military’s “first step” toward operations in the Pacific “and a meaningful prelude to containing Guam” under a “real war” scenario.

In an earlier threat this month, North Korea said it had formulated a plan to shower the area around U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with four missiles that would have flown over Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures.

Guam is home to American military bases and would be a key logistics hub in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

In Washington, Trump doubled down Tuesday in the U.S. standoff with the North.

“The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: the regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations and for minimal standards of acceptable behavior,” Trump said in a statement.

“Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table.”

At the U.N. later Tuesday, the 15-member Security Council was united, with China and Russia agreeing to sign up to a statement condemning the isolated regime’s action.

“The Security Council stresses that these DPRK actions are not just a threat to the region, but to all U.N. member states,” the statement said, using the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The Security Council expresses its grave concern that the DPRK is, by conducting such a launch over Japan as well as its recent actions and public statements, deliberately undermining regional peace and stability.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke for 20 minutes over the phone, agreeing to seek “a more powerful” U.N. Security Council resolution in a bid to pile even more pressure on the recalcitrant North, a high-ranking Japanese official said.

Abe also reiterated his stance on talks with the North, a position he also took in a phone call with Trump a day earlier.

“It’s clear that North Korea is not ready for dialogue. Now is the time to further strengthen pressure,” Abe reportedly told Moon.

In Abe’s call with Trump, the U.S. leader reaffirmed that Washington “stands behind Japan 100 percent” in its “strong commitment” to defending its Asian ally.

Tuesday’s drill came amid North Korea’s dizzying pace of missile launches, including 17 this year, according to the data compiled by the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ North Korea Missile Test Database.

Among those, Pyongyang conducted two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile in July — including one that experts say potentially puts Chicago and Los Angeles within range. Trump had vowed earlier this month to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea if it endangered the United States.

His statement that “all options are on the table” may imply that military action remains a U.S. option for resolving the nuclear standoff despite recent signs that the White House had shifted its focus to a return to dialogue.

Both Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had appeared to hold out hope in recent days that a nearly monthlong halt in missile launches by the Kim regime had been a sign it was eyeing talks.

Military action to remove Kim or strike nuclear and missile sites would likely trigger a war that U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said would be “catastrophic.”

Staff writer Reiji Yoshida contributed to this report

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