North Korea tests ballistic missile; does not appear to be ICBM

SEOUL, Feb 12 (Reuters) - North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast early on Sunday, South Korea's military said, the first time the isolated state has tested such a device since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. and South Korean military sources said the missile did not appear to be an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) given its flight range.

Trump had been briefed on the missile launch, and the White House is continuing to monitor the situation, a White House official said on Saturday. Trump did not respond to a shouted question from a reporter about the launch as he posed for pictures with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of a dinner in Florida.

The launch marks the first test of Trump's vow to get tough on a North Korean regime that last year tested nuclear devices and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate in violation of United Nations sanctions.

The latest test comes a day after Trump held a summit meeting with Abe and said he agreed to work to ensure a strong defense against North Korea's threat, and also follows Trump's phone call last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A U.S. official said after the test that the Trump administration would press China to do more to rein in North Korea.

China is North Korea's main ally but has been frustrated by Pyongyang's repeated provocations, although it bristles at pressure from Washington and Seoul to rein in the North and its young leader, Kim Jong Un.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday morning.

The missile was launched from an area called Panghyon in North Korea's western region just before 8 a.m. (2300 GMT Saturday) and flew about 500 km (300 miles), the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

"Our assessment is that it is part of a show of force in response to the new U.S. administration's hardline position against the North," the office said in a statement.

The South's military said Seoul and Washington were analyzing the details of the launch. Yonhap News Agency said the South Korean military was assessing the launch to confirm whether it was a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, which has a designed range of 3,000 km (1,800 miles).

16 PHOTOS
15 facts about Kim Jong Un
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15 facts about Kim Jong Un

1) Kim Jong Un was born on January 8 -- 1982, 1983, or 1984.

His parents were future North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and his consort, Ko Young Hee. He had an older brother named Kim Jong Chul and would later have a younger sister named Kim Yo Jong.

(Photo: DPRK propaganda via http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/NG14Dg02.html)

2) Jong Un -- here with his mother -- lived at home as a child.

During this period, North Korea was ruled by "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung. While Jong Il was the heir apparent, Jong Un's path to command was far less certain.

(DPRK propaganda via http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/NG14Dg02.html)

3) Then it was off to Switzerland to attend boarding school.

Called "Pak Un" and described as the son of an employee of the North Korean embassy, Jong Un is thought to have attended an English-language international school in Gümligen near Bern.

4) Jong Un loved basketball and idolized Michael Jordan.

The young Korean reportedly had posters of Jordan all over his walls during his Swiss school days. Although Jong Un was overweight and only 5-6, he was a decent basketball player.

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

5) After school in Switzerland, he returned home for military schooling.

Upon his return to North Korea, Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University with his older brother. Some reports say they started to attend their father's military field inspections around 2007.

(Photo by Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

6) Jong Un has a theme song known as "Footsteps."

"Footsteps" looks and sounds like a propaganda song from the Soviet Union.

7) Many North Koreans see Jong Un as a youthful version of "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung.

Kim bears a clear resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in appearance, haircut, and mannerisms.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

8) After his father died, Jong Un was quickly declared "Supreme Leader" of North Korea.

(AFP/Getty Images)

9. Some originally believed that Jong Un's aunt and uncle were actually calling the shots.

(Reuters TV / Reuters)

11. He's married to a former cheerleader and may have two kids.

(KCNA KCNA / Reuters)

10) But at the end of December 2013, Jong Un had his uncle and his uncle's family executed, apparently in a bid to stop a coup against his rule.

12) Jong Un lived out a childhood fantasy when former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman visited.

Everyone in the family is apparently a huge Chicago Bulls fans.

(Photo courtesy of VICE)

13) But recently, things haven't been going so well.

In 2013 he was reportedly the target of an assassination attempt. South Korean intelligence believes the young leader was targeted by "disgruntled people inside the North" after he demoted a four-star general, which resulted in a power struggle.

(Photo courtesy: DPRK)

14. Jong Un has continued to be belligerent with South Korea and the West throughout his rule in hopes of bolstering his authority.

(KCNA KCNA / Reuters)

15. Jong Un's belligerence reached a peak in 2016.

(KCNA KCNA / Reuters)

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LAUNCH CONDEMNED

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the missile had apparently landed in the Sea of Japan but not within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

South Korea and Japan both condemned the launch.

"We can absolutely not accept these continued provocations by North Korea, and have protested strongly to them," Suga said.

The U.S. military also said it had detected a missile launch by the North and was assessing it, according to a U.S. defense official in Washington.

The North tried to launch a Musudan eight times last year but most attempts failed. One launch that sent a missile 400 km (250 miles), more than half the distance to Japan, was considered a success by officials and experts in the South and the United States.

Kim said in his New Year speech that the country was close to test-launching an ICBM and state media have said such a launch could come at any time.

Kim's comments prompted a vow of an "overwhelming" response from U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis when he traveled to South Korea earlier this month.

Once fully developed, a North Korean ICBM could threaten the continental United States, which is about 9,000 km (5,500 miles) from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km (3,400 miles), but some are designed to travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles) or more.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and numerous missile-related tests last year and was seen by experts and officials to be making progress in its weapons capabilities, although until Sunday no ballistic missile launch attempt had been detected since October.

Its repeated missile launches have prompted Washington and Seoul to agree to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery in South Korea later this year, which is strongly opposed by Beijing, which worries the system's powerful radar undermines its own security.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Ayesha Rascoe in Jupiter, Florida, Elaine Lies in Tokyo, and Ben Blnachard in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Tony Munroe)


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