Seoul/Washington: North Korea attempted and failed to launch what experts believe was an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Thursday, April 14, in defiance of UN sanctions and in an embarrassing setback for leader Kim Jong Un, drawing criticism from the US and major ally China. The failed launch was detected by the US military.
It was likely a Musudan, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a design range of more than 3,000 km that can be fired from a road mobile launcher but which has never been flight-tested.
This failed launch follows the North’s fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February, which led to new UN sanctions. But the North has nevertheless pushed ahead with its missile programme, supervised by Kim.
Friday is the anniversary of North Korean founding president Kim Il Sung’s birthday, which is widely celebrated. In 2012, it was marked by a long-range rocket launch attempt, which also failed.
The US military detected and tracked what it has assessed was a failed North Korean missile launch, a defence department spokesman said on Thursday.
The launch, at 8.33 pm GMT on Thursday, was detected by US Strategic Command systems, the spokesman said in a statement. According to North American Aerospace Defence Command, the missile did not pose a threat to North America, the statement said. A spokesman for the Strategic Command said he had no details about the type of missile launched. “We’ll probably let North Korea characterise it themselves,” he said.
The US State Department has seen the reports and is closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula, a department official said. “We call again on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps towards fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” he added.
The US-based 38 North website, which specialises in North Korea, has said there has been activity at the country’s nuclear site based on satellite imagery, and on Wednesday said the possibility of a fifth nuclear test “could not be ruled out”.
China, North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, has been angered by Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and rocket launches in the face of UN sanctions that China has also backed.
“The firing of a mid-range ballistic missile on Friday by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, though failed, marks the latest in a string of sabre-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere,” China’s official Xinhua news agency said in an English language commentary. “…Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavours will keep on suffocating its economy.”
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and the US, often fires missiles during periods of tension in the region or when it comes under pressure to curb its defiance and abandon its weapons programmes. Some experts had said North Korea may choose to test-fire the Musudan as it tries to build an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to put the mainland US within range.
The reclusive North and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.