North Korea fired an unidentified ballistic missile into nearby seas on Sunday, drawing a joint rebuke from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Abe, speaking at a briefing with Trump in Florida, said the missile test “can absolutely not be tolerated” and called on North Korea to fully comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions. The launch was the first provocation by North Korea since Trump took office.
“The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” Trump said in brief remarks. Neither Abe nor Trump took questions.
Kim Jong Un’s regime has accelerated North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and missiles that can strike the U.S. and its allies in Asia. In response, the U.S. has looked to deploy a missile defense system known as Thaad in South Korea, a move opposed by China — North Korea’s primary ally.
South Korea’s military said the missile was launched at 7:55 a.m. local time from the North Korea’s northwest, the same region where Kim’s regime fired a mid-range Musudan missile last October. It flew 500 kilometers (310 miles) into its East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a text message.
South Korea’s defense ministry said it couldn’t confirm whether the projectile was a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. territory, which North Korea had threatened to test launch in recent weeks. Trump had vowed last month to prevent the country from developing the capability to strike the U.S. with a missile.
The U.S. Strategic Command said in a statement that the North launched a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile, which posed no threat to North America. U.S. forces remain vigilant against North Korean provocations, and are fully committed to working with allies in Japan and South Korea, the statement said.
South Korea’s presidential security adviser Kim Kwan Jin called U.S. counterpart Michael Flynn after the launch, the Blue House said in a statement. They agreed to cooperate in seeking ways to deter provocation by N. Korea, it said.
The range of the missile fired on Sunday, if confirmed, is greater than an intermediate-range Musudan missile that North Korea fired last year, according to Cheong Seong-chang, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute. That would show that North Korea’s missile capability is reaching a “stable level,” he said.
“The North’s improvement in missile capability shown today will be met by the Trump administration’s strong opposition and will likely accelerate the Thaad deployment on South Korea,” Cheong said. “That would, of course, trigger a backlash by China, which will likely retaliate against South Korea further.”
North Korea fired at least 25 projectiles last year, according to the United Nations, which bans it from pursuing ballistic missile technology because it could be used to deliver nuclear warheads. Pyongyang also detonated two nuclear devices in 2016.
Kim said Jan. 1 that his country was in the “last stage” of preparations to test-fire an inter-continental ballistic missile, leading Trump to write on Twitter, “It won’t happen!” Trump did not give specifics of how he’d stop Kim’s missile development.
The UN Security Council unanimously passed a fresh resolution in late November that tightened sanctions on North Korea, including cutting the country’s coal exports, after the regime conducted its fifth nuclear test in September.
Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters Sunday in comments carried by NHK that the ministry will continue to gather information and make utmost efforts to monitor the situation vigilantly. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would look to strengthen cooperation on information sharing with the U.S. and South Korea, Kyodo reported.