North Korea launched its most powerful missile yet last night, abruptly ending a 10-week pause in its weapons testing. The move shuts the door for now on the possibility of a diplomatic opening.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the US and South Korean militaries were analysing the launch data from the missile, which was fired from an area in Pyongsong, a city close to North Korea’s capital, at 3.17am local time. In response, it said South Korea conducted a “precision-strike” drill, without elaborating.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in expressed worry that North Korea’s growing missile threat could force the United States to attack the North before it masters a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, something experts say may be imminent.
“We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike.”
The launch is North Korea’s first since it fired an intermediate range missile over Japan on September 15, and appeared to shatter chances that the break could lead to renewed diplomacy over the reclusive country’s nuclear programme. US officials have sporadically floated the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it maintained restraint.
The missile also appears to improve on North Korea’s past launches.
A week ago, the US government declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, further straining ties between governments that are still technically at war. Washington also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North.
North Korea called the terror designation a “serious provocation” that justifies its development of nuclear weapons.