The United States has requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council along with Japan on the latest Democratic People’s Republic of Korea missile launch. The U.N. said the council will hold closed consultations on the launch late Wednesday afternoon.
South Korean officials said a ballistic missile fired from a DPRK submarine on Wednesday flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles), the longest distance achieved by the DPRK for such a weapon. The missile fire put all of South Korea, and possibly parts of Japan, within its striking distance.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said a council meeting has not yet been scheduled. A previous DPRK nuclear test in January and a series of missile launches by Pyongyang have all been carried out in violation of Security Council resolutions.
The DPRK already has a variety of land-based missiles that can hit South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases in those countries. But its development of reliable submarine-launched missiles would add weapons that are harder to detect before liftoff.
The missile, fired from a submarine off the eastern DPRK coastal town of Sinpo, reached into Japan’s air defense identification zone, according to Seoul and Tokyo officials. The U.S. Strategic Command said it tracked the launch of the presumed KN-11 missile into the Sea of Japan.
Its 500-kilometer (310-mile) flight puts all of South Korea within its range if it is fired near the two countries’ border.
The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea made a rare display of unity Wednesday to sharply criticize the DPRK’s latest submarine missile test.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who chaired the meeting with China’s Wang Yi and South Korea’s Yun Byung-se, said the missile launch is a “provocation that simply cannot be tolerated.”
Kishida said the ministers reaffirmed their effort in prompting the DPRK to use restraint. “I hope to coordinate closely in order for Japan, China and South Korea to lead the efforts of the international community,” he said.
The three countries have quarreled on a number of issues — notably territorial disputes and wartime history — and their foreign ministers’ meetings resumed only last year after a two-year hiatus because of strained Chinese-Japanese relations.
Yun said that the DPRK’s repeated missile tests this year “demonstrated a rapid advancement of capability” and that he shared the concern over the “urgent situation” with his counterparts.
Wang said the three neighbors, despite problems and difficulties among them, should work together to deal with regional threats like the DPRK’s missile and nuclear ambitions.
“China opposes the DPRK’s nuclear and missile process, actions that cause tension on the Korean Peninsula,” Wang said in a joint news conference.
South Korea’s military condemned the launch as an “armed protest” by the DPRK against the start of annual South Korean-U.S. military drills, but acknowledged it was an improvement over previous tests of similar missiles.
“North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats are not imaginary threats any longer, but they’re now becoming real threats,” South Korean President Park Geun-hye said of the launch. “Those threats are coming closer each moment.”
Missiles of such capability could also potentially strike parts of Japan, including U.S. military bases on the island of Okinawa, considering the operational range of DPRK’s Sinpo-class submarines, which can move about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) underwater at a time, said analyst Kim Dong-yub at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
The DPRK fired two missiles from submarines earlier this year, but South Korean defense officials believe they exploded in midair after flying less than 30 kilometers (18 miles).
The launch was the latest in a series of missile, rocket and other weapon tests this year by DPRK, which is pushing to acquire reliable weapons that are capable of striking targets as far away as the continental United States.
In June, the DPRK, after a string of failures, sent a midrange ballistic missile more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) high. Analysts say the flight showed DPRK has made progress in its push to be able to strike U.S. forces throughout the region.
Many outside experts say the DPRK doesn’t yet have a functioning long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental U.S., but they acknowledge that it has been making steady progress in its weapons programs and could one day develop such a weapon. Some civilian experts have said they believe the North already has the technology to put warheads on shorter-range missiles that could strike South Korea and Japan.
Wednesday’s launch came two days after the U.S. and South Korea began their 12-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, prompting DPRK threats of retaliation for the military drills, which it views as an invasion rehearsal.
The DPRK usually responds to regular South Korea-U.S. military drills with weapons tests and fiery warlike rhetoric.
The launch also comes at a time of intensified animosity between the rival Koreas over the defection of a senior DPRK diplomat in London and a U.S. plan to install a sophisticated missile defense system in South Korea.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are based in South Korea and tens of thousands of more in Japan.
Story by the Associated Press