North Korea Fires Missile in Test for South Korean President

orth Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president who vowed to engage with Kim Jong Un’s regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program.

The missile was launched at 5:27 a.m. from the city of Kusong, northwest of the capital Pyongyang, and flew about 700 kilometers (435 miles), according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. It had an estimated altitude of more than 2,000 kilometers, suggesting it may be a new type, Japan’s Defense Ministry said.

U.S. Pacific Command said the projectile, which fell into the Sea of Japan, was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile and did not pose a threat to North America.

The launch is an early test for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came to power last week saying he would visit Pyongyang under the “right circumstances.” He favors a combination of sanctions and talks to bring a halt to Kim’s nuclear weapons program.

“My best guess is that it was aimed at sending a message to the new South Korean leadership that it will need to deal with Pyongyang on North Korea’s terms, not Moon’s,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS policy research group in Honolulu.

It also came as Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts his first Belt-and-Road Forum, bringing together almost 30 leaders to showcase an infrastructure program that will funnel money into roads, railways and ports across Southeast Asia and Central Asia. China is North Korea’s neighbor, ally and economic lifeline, though Xi has recently stepped up pressure on the regime to curb its weapons tests. A delegation from Pyongyang is attending his summit.

Xi discussed the latest North Korean tests during bilateral talks in Beijing with Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday, according to Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

China Response

China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a faxed statement Sunday the latest missile test was a violation of United Nations resolutions, while it urged restraint from all parties on the “complex and sensitive” situation on the Korean peninsula.

Moon told a meeting of his national security council the launch was a challenge for global security, according to spokesman Yoon Young-chan. South Korea remains open to the possibility of talks but will deal sternly with North Korea’s provocations, Yoon quoted Moon as saying.

U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster spoke by phone to his counterparts in South Korea and Japan Sunday and agreed to strengthen cooperation in their bid to rein in North Korea.

Japan said the missile probably fell outside its exclusive economic zone, though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the test was “a serious threat to Japan.” It was the first time a North Korean missile reached 2,000 kilometers in altitude, which suggested a lofted trajectory, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada was quoted by Kyodo News as saying.

The launch defies UN sanctions and comes despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s warnings that military action is an option to prevent Kim from developing an ICBM with the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead to North America. Trump has previously lauded efforts by China to rein in its neighbor.

Read more on Trump’s grim military options against North Korea

Trump was briefed on the missile test, the White House said in a statement. North Korea has been a “flagrant menace” for too long and the latest provocation serves as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions on it, according to the statement

“With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil -– in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan –- the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the White House said.

The launch came a day after Choe Son Hui, director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, said the regime would be willing to talk to the U.S. if conditions were right, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News. That follows recent comments by Trump that he would be “honored” to meet Kim under the right conditions.

Still, each side has stuck for years to its stance on what those “conditions” would be, making talks almost impossible: The U.S. says it will only agree to dialogue if North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons program, while Pyongyang says that will never happen and it will only hold discussions if there are no strings attached.

South Korea, Japan and the U.S. are working on a UN Security Council response to the latest missile, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

Kim has tested dozens of projectiles and three nuclear weapons since he came to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011. He claimed in January to be in the final stages of preparations to test-fire an ICBM, and has launched several intermediate-range projectiles with varying degrees of success.

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