North Korea missile test fails before Pence visit to Seoul
SEOUL, South Korea (4th UPDATE) – Visiting US Vice President Mike Pence described North Korea's failed missile test Sunday, April 16, as a "provocation" and assured South Korea of Washington's full support against the threat from its volatile neighbor.
Pyongyang launched the missile hours before Pence arrived in Seoul for talks on curbing the North's weapons programs as fears grow that it is planning another nuclear test.
But US officials said the missile exploded seconds after it was fired.
"This morning's provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face each and every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world," Pence told US military families at an Easter dinner.
Some 28,500 US troops are stationed in the South.
The latest launch came a day after the North held a defiant massive military parade in Pyongyang which showcased nearly 60 missiles – including a suspected new intercontinental ballistic missile.
"The missile blew up almost immediately," the US Defense Department said of Sunday's early-morning launch from near Sinpo on the North's east coast.
The type of missile was not clear.
The North has a habit of test-firing missiles to mark major dates such as Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of the nation's founder Kim Il-Sung, or as gestures of defiance when top US officials visit the region.
South Korea's foreign ministry said that by conducting the latest test just a day after displaying a series of missiles, "North Korea has threatened the whole world."
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest test but had "no further comment," while at the Easter dinner at Yongsan military base, Pence brought greetings for the troops from Trump.
"Let me assure you that under President Trump's leadership our resolve has never been stronger, our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger and with your help and God's help freedom will ever prevail on this peninsula," he said.
Last August a submarine-launched ballistic missile tested from Sinpo flew 500 kilometers (300 miles) towards Japan.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un hailed that test as the "greatest success" and said it brought the US mainland within range of a mobile delivery system.
Pyongyang's rogue atomic ambitions have come into sharp focus in recent weeks, with Trump vowing a tough stance against the North and threatening unilateral action if China failed to help curb its neighbour's nuclear program.
Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.
With speculation mounting that the North is preparing to conduct a 6th nuclear test, he sent an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula.
But a White House foreign policy adviser traveling with Pence played down Sunday's test, saying the missile – probably a medium-range one – failed after about 4 to 5 seconds.
While Washington had a "wide array of tools" at the president's disposal, "for this particular case, if they (North Korea) took the time and energy to launch a missile that failed, we don't need to expend any resources against that."
The North has reiterated its constant refrain that it is ready for war with the US, and its army Friday, April 14, vowed a "merciless" response to any US provocation.
Recent satellite images suggest its main nuclear site is "primed and ready," according to specialist US website 38North.
China, the North's sole major ally, and Russia have both urged restraint.
China's most senior diplomat Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exchanged views on the situation on the Korean peninsula by phone on Sunday, Beijing's official Xinhua news agency said.
The White House adviser said Trump and China's President Xi Jinping had discussed a number of steps at their summit this month and "we've seen the Chinese already take some initial steps towards that" – citing the turning back of coal ships from North Korea.
The UN Security Council has imposed 6 sets of sanctions against the North since 2006, when it staged the first of its 5 nuclear tests. All have failed to halt its drive for what it insists are defensive weapons.
On Monday, April 17, Pence is scheduled to meet Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn for talks expected to focus on the North's weapons programs and a controversial US missile defense system known as THAAD. – Rappler.com