North Korea tested an unidentified missile early Sunday that “blew up almost immediately,” the U.S. military said — the latest act of defiance in the face of calls by Washington to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.
The failed launch, which was detected from a site near the port city of Sinpo, came just a day after Pyongyang showcased its military might in a parade marking the birth of the country’s founder, where it displayed a variety of old and new weaponry, including technology that pointed to possible plans for new long-range missiles.
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Sunday’s failure also occurred hours before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was due to arrive in Seoul for the first leg of an Asia trip, including a stop in Japan from Tuesday to Thursday.
U.S. President Donald Trump was uncharacteristically mute on the test. In a statement, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the president and his military team “are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment.”
Amid surging tensions in the region, Trump earlier this month rerouted what he referred to as an “armada” led by a U.S. aircraft carrier from a planned visit to Australia to waters off the Korean Peninsula. The carrier strike group was due to arrive in the area soon.
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The show of force by Trump — who has said the option for military strikes against the North remains on the table — is intended to deter Pyongyang from conducting more nuclear or missile tests.
However, the U.S. leader’s hard-line stance has done little to dissuade Pyongyang from maintaining its frenetic pace of missile tests, including at least seven known launches this year.
But at least two of the launches have ended in failure, including Sunday’s, which the U.S. Pacific Command said “blew up almost immediately.” It said the type of missile was still being assessed.
Missile experts said the hypothetical target of that drill appeared to be U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Observers said the undisguised threat to U.S. bases in Japan was rare, even for Pyongyang, which routinely serves up colorful invectives.
The North has also been making apparent preparations for its sixth atomic test, according to analyses of recent commercial satellite imagery. Any nuclear or test of an ICBM would pose a fresh challenge to Trump, who has vowed that Pyongyang’s goal of possessing a nuclear-tipped long-range missile “won’t happen.”
Trump has threatened to act unilaterally if China — North Korea’s only major ally — fails to do more to curb its neighbor’s activities.