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North Korea fires missile days after Moon pledges dialogue

Yonhap via Reuters

People watch a news report on North Korea firing a ballistic missile, at a railway station in Seoul on Sunday.

ReutersSEOUL (Reuters) — North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday in defiance of calls to rein in its weapons program, days after a new leader in its old rival South Korea came to power pledging to engage it in dialogue.

The missile flew 700 kilometers and reached an altitude of more than 2,000 kilometers, according to officials in South Korea and Japan, further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same region of Kusong, northwest of Pyongyang.

North Korea is widely believed to be developing an intercontinental missile tipped with a nuclear weapon that is capable of reaching the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed not to let that happen.

An intercontinental ballistic missile is considered to have a range of more than 6,000 kilometers.

Experts said the altitude the missile tested on Sunday reached meant it was launched at a high trajectory, which would limit the lateral distance it traveled. But if it was fired at a standard trajectory, it would have a range of at least 4,000 kilometers, experts said.

Kim Dong Yub, of Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said he estimated a standard trajectory would give it a range of 6,000 kilometers.

Japan said the missile flew for 30 minutes before dropping into the sea between North Korea’s east coast and Japan. North Korea has consistently test-fired missiles in that direction.

“The launch may indeed represent a new missile with a long range,” said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, referring to the estimated altitude of more than 2,000 kilometers. “It is definitely concerning.”

In Washington, the White House said Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” with the test as the missile landed closer to Russia than to Japan.

“With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil — in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan — the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” it said.

The launch served as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against North Korea, it added.

Speaking in Beijing, Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping had discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including the latest missile launch and expressed “mutual concerns” about growing tension.

Putin is in Beijing for a conference on a plan for a new Silk Road. Delegations from the United States, South Korea and North Korea are also there.

The launch, at 5:27 a.m. Seoul time, came two weeks after North Korea fired a missile that disintegrated minutes into flight, marking its fourth consecutive failure since March.

South Korean President Moon Jae In, who took office on Wednesday, held his first National Security Council in response to the launch, which he called a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions, his office said.

“The president said while South Korea remains open to the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, it is only possible when North Korea shows a change in attitude,” Yoon Young Chan, Moon’s press secretary, told a briefing.

Moon won Tuesday’s election on a platform of a moderate approach to North Korea and has said he would be willing to go to Pyongyang under the right circumstances, arguing dialogue must be used in parallel with sanctions.

China, North Korea’s sole main ally which nevertheless objects to its weapons programs, called for restraint and for no one to exacerbate tension.

“China opposes relevant launch activities by North Korea that are contrary to Security Council resolutions,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The launch will also complicate Moon’s efforts to mend ties with China that have been strained by a decision by South Korea’s former government to deploy a U.S. antimissile defense system aimed at defending against North Korea, but which China sees as a threat to its security.

Moon told Xi recently that it would be difficult to resolve the issue unless North Korea stopped being provocative.

North Korea on Feb. 12 launched the Pukguksong-2 missile, an upgraded, extended-range version of its submarine-launched ballistic missile, from the same site.

South Korean and U.S. military officials said the February launch was a significant development as it successfully tested a solid-fuel engine from a mobile launcher. The missile flew about 500 kilometers with an altitude of 550 kilometers.

North Korea has attempted but failed to test-launch ballistic missiles four times in the past two months but has conducted various tests since the beginning of last year at an unprecedented pace.Speech

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