North Korea has failed in an attempt to launch a mid-range missile on a day marking the birth of its founder. According to South Korean media, the attempt involved a missile with the potential to hit US bases in Asia.
North Korea's attempt Friday to launch an intermediate range ballistic missile off the country's eastern coast has apparently failed, according to South Korean and US defense officials.
South Korean media reported the failed launch was a powerful new mid-range missile that could potentially reach far-off US military bases in Asia, though US and South Korean officials could not confirm the type of missile. North Korea conducted a successful launch in February, which led to fresh UN sanctions as well as nuclear test in January.
An official with the South Korea Defense Ministry said the North was attempting a missile launch but the launch appeared to be unsuccessful. US military officials said they detected and tracked the missile launch at 5:33 a.m. local time (22:33 UTC) but said the missile did not pose a threat to North America.
"We assess that the launch failed," a US defense official told news agency AFP, adding that it was "presumably" a medium-range Musudan missile.
A senior US defense official speaking anonymously to the Associated Press said the launch was in violation of UN resolutions.
"We strongly condemn North Korea's missile test in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, which explicitly prohibit North Korea's use of ballistic missile technology," the official said.
The launch even prompted censure from China, North Korea's most important economic and diplomatic ally.
"The firing of a mid-range ballistic missile on Friday by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), though failed, marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere," China's state Xinhua news agency said in an English language commentary.
"...Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."
The launch comes as North and South Korea have traded threats amid Pyongyang's anger over annual South Korean-US military drills. The North has fired missiles and artillery shells into the sea in an apparent protest against the drills.
The United States currently has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea. The US said Thursday it was monitoring the Korean peninsula closely, and was aware of reports the North was preparing to test mid-range missiles.
Kim Il Sung anniversary
Friday is the anniversary of the birth of North Korean founding president Kim Il Sung. In the past, Pyongyang has used the occasion to stage provocative nuclear or missile tests. On April 15, 2012, the North's attempt to launch a long-range rocket also met with failure.
"Timing wise, today's missile was a cannon salute on the Day of the Sun, leading up to the party congress, but now that it has failed, it is an embarrassment," said Chang Gwang-il, a retired South Korean army general.
The recent surge in belligerence and nuclear and missile activity in North Korea may also be linked to leader Kim Jong Un's preparations for an upcoming ruling party meeting next month where analysts say he will further solidify power.
In recent months, Pyongyang has hailed a series of achievements, including miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile, developing a warhead that can withstand atmospheric re-entry and building a solid-fuel missile engine. Last week, it said it had successfully tested an engine designed for an inter-continental ballistic missile that could strike the US mainland.
rs, bw/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)