World

North Korea claims all of U.S. in strike range as Trump says China has done 'nothing"

North Korean President Kim Jong-un says its latest missile test shows all of the United States is within striking distance, but U.S. authorities characterized that assertion as an exaggeration.

Missile has a range that could reach California, analysts suggest

This July 4, 2017, file photo, distributed by the North Korean government, shows what was said to be the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea. On Friday North Korea fired a ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan, Japanese officials said. (Korea News Service/Associated Press)

North Korea fired a missile on Friday that experts said was capable of hitting Los Angeles and other U.S. cities.

North Korea confirmed the launch on Saturday with President Kim Jong-un saying it showed all of the United States was within striking distance. U.S. authorities characterized that as an exaggeration.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has branded North Korea the "most urgent and dangerous threat to peace," condemned the launch as reckless.  

"By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people," Trump said in a statement. "The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region."

Later Saturday, Trump wrote on Twitter that he was "very disappointed" in China and that Beijing had done "nothing" for the United States in regards to North Korea, something he would not allow to continue.

Late-night launch

The unusual late-night launch added to exasperation in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo over Pyongyang's continuing development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Friday's test prompted U.S. and South Korean military officials to discuss military response options.

The North Korean military had already raised alarms early this month with its first ICBM launch. The official North Korean news agency said Friday's missile was a "stern warning" for the United States.

The top U.S. military official, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, and Admiral Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, spoke by phone with the top South Korean military official, Gen. Lee Sun-jin, to discuss military response options to the launch.

The Trump administration has said that all options are on the table, including military ones, however it has also made clear that diplomacy and sanctions are its preferred course. Following a meeting of South Korea's National Security Council, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he wanted the UN Security Council to discuss new and stronger sanctions against the North, the presidential Blue House said.

Live-fire missile exercise

Later the United States and South Korea conducted a live-fire ballistic missile exercise in a display of firepower in response to the missile launch, the U.S. military said. The two allies had staged a similar exercise after the North Korean test earlier in the month.

South Korea's defence minister Song Young-moo said on Saturday Seoul would prepare independent measures to curb North Korea's nuclear threat after the missile launch. The launch from North Korea's northern Jangang province took place at 11:41 p.m. local time, an official at South Korea's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile flew for about 45 minutes before apparently landing in the waters of Japan's exclusive economic zone. Japanese broadcaster NHK, citing a military official, said the missile reached an altitude of more than 3,000 km.

U.S. cities in range

The South Korean military said the missile was believed to be an ICBM-class, flying more than 1,000 km and reaching an altitude of 3,700 km. In Washington, the Pentagon also said it had assessed that the missile was an ICBM.

U.S. officials said the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon spy agency, has determined that North Korea will be able to field a reliable nuclear-capable ICBM by next year, earlier than previously thought.

Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies said the launch showed Los Angeles was within range of a North Korean missile, with Chicago, New York and Washington, just out of reach.

"They may not have demonstrated the full range. The computer models suggest it can hit all of those targets," he said.

The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said its calculations showed the missile could have been capable of going as far into the United States as Denver and Chicago.

Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the window for a diplomatic solution with North Korea "is closing rapidly."'

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, centre, who is also currently acting as defence minister, is surrounded by reporters upon his arrival at prime minister's house in Tokyo after reports about the launch. (Kyodo/Reuters)

"The key here is that North Korea has a second successful test in less than one month," he said. "If this trend holds, they could establish an acceptably reliable ICBM before year's end."

John Schilling, an aerospace expert and a contributor to 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring website, said the improved performance over the previous test could have been the result of a lighter payload as part of an effort to demonstrate that the missile could hit the U.S. capital.

Los Angeles would be protected by the U.S. missile defense network, which includes four ground-based interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force base, about 240 km north of the city, and a second battery of 32 missiles in Alaska.

During a test on May 31 the missile defense system shot down an incoming ICBM missile aimed at the U.S. mainland and a Pentagon spokesman said the military had "confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat." Other authorities say the United States may not be able to seal itself off entirely from a North Korean ICBM attack.

'Blatant violation'

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, and called on China and Russia to do more to curb the growing threat to regional and global stability posed by Pyongyang's missiles.

"All nations should take a strong public stance against North Korea by maintaining and strengthening UN sanctions to ensure North Korea will face consequences for its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them," he said.

Tillerson also said Russia and China are "the principal economic enablers of North Korea's nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development program" and bear "unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability."

He says the U.S. seeks the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the end to belligerent actions by North Korea.

Senate votes for sanctions

Trump spoke with Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping about North Korea's nuclear arsenal this month and has become frustrated that China has not reined in its ally Pyongyang.

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 is seen in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. (KCNA/Reuters)

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Friday's launch had been expected and took place from Mupyong-ni, an arms plant in northern North Korea. It came a day after the U.S. Senate approved a package of sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the launch of a "ballistic missile of possible intercontinental range," his spokesperson said.

A Russian Defence Ministry official said Moscow's data indicated the launch was only of a medium-range ballistic missile, Russian news agency Tass reported. Diplomats say China and Russia only view a long-range missile test or nuclear weapon test as a trigger for further possible UN sanctions.

The data on the trajectory indicate the missile was fired at a sharply lofted angle but packed more power than the missile launched on July 4 that U.S and South Korean officials said was an ICBM, potentially capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

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