North Korea missile program progressing faster than expected, says South

SEOUL, May 16 (Reuters) - North Korea's missile program is progressing faster than expected, South Korea's defense minister said on Tuesday, hours after the UN Security Council demanded the North halt all nuclear and ballistic missile tests and condemned Sunday's test-launch.

The reclusive North, which has defied all calls to rein in its weapons programs, even from its lone major ally, China, has been working on a missile, mounted with a nuclear warhead, capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has called for an immediate halt to Pyongyang's provocations and has warned that the "era of strategic patience" with North Korea is over. U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said on Tuesday China's leverage was key and that it could do more.

South Korean Defence Minister Han Min-koo told parliament Sunday's test-launch was "successful in flight."

RELATED: North Korea's May 2017 missile test

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North Korea's May 2017 missile test
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North Korea's May 2017 missile test
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man watches a television screen showing Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A foreigner walks past a television screen showing an image of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, center, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts with members of the Korean People's Army in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A woman stands in front of a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) waving to the Korean People's Army construction department officials in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A man watches a television screen showing Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) test launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North 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. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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"It is considered an IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) of enhanced caliber compared to Musudan missiles that have continually failed," he said, referring to a class of missile designed to travel up to 3,000 to 4,000 km (1,860 to 2,485 miles).

Asked if North Korea's missile program was developing faster than the South had expected, he said: "Yes."

The North's KCNA news agency said Sunday's launch tested its capability to carry a "large-size heavy nuclear warhead." Its ambassador to China said in Beijing on Monday it would continue such test launches "any time, any place."

The missile flew 787 km (489 miles) on a trajectory reaching an altitude of 2,111.5 km (1,312 miles), KCNA said.

Pyongyang has regularly threatened to destroy the United States, which it accuses of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war by conducting recent military drills with South Korea and Japan.

Trump and new South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet in Washington next month, with North Korea expected to be high on the agenda, the South's presidential Blue House said.

Moon met Matt Pottinger, overseeing Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, on Tuesday and said he hoped to continue to have "sufficient, close discussions" between Seoul and Washington, the Blue House press secratary said at a briefing.

"FURTHER SANCTIONS POSSIBLE"

In a unanimously agreed statement, the 15-member UN Security Council said it was of vital importance that North Korea show "sincere commitment to denuclearization through concrete action and stressed the importance of working to reduce tensions."

"To that end, the Security Council demanded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea conduct no further nuclear and ballistic missile tests," the council said, adding that it was ready to impose further sanctions on the country.

The statement also condemned an April 28 ballistic missile launch by Pyongyang.

RELATED: Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea

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Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea
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Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 2, 2017. Figure 1. Activity continues at the North Portal. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 2, 2017. Figure 2. Possible new dumping observed at the North Portal spoil pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 2, 2017. Figure 3. Probable personnel in formation or equipment in rows at the Main Administrative Area. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 30, 2017. Figure 1. No vehicles or trailers remain around the North Portal but well-worn paths are observed. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 30, 2017. Figure 2. No new dumping of material on the North Portal spoil pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 30, 2017. Figure 3. Small collection of crates or trailers seen in previous imagery has been removed. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 28, 2017. Figure 3B. Formations seen in the Main Administrative Area, similar to what was seen in lead up to 2013 nuclear test. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 28, 2017. Figure 2. Material dumped at the North Portal tailings pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 4, 2013. Figure 3A. Formations seen in the Main Administrative Area in lead up to 2013 nuclear test. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 28, 2017. Figure 1. Continued activity at the North Portal. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 25, 2017. Figure 1. Probable cabling and water drainage seen at the North Portal. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 19th, 2016: Figure 6: Excavation continued underground in the North Portal area suggesting more tests to come in the same tunnel complex directly under Mt. Mantap. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 5th, 2017: Figure 7: The North Portal spoil pile continued to expand into 2017, becoming increasingly broader. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 22nd, 2017: Figure 8: Late January 2017 imagery showing new spoil on top of recent snow. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 19th, 2016: Figure 9. A close-up of the North Portal spoil pile as it appeared in late October 2016. The unstable spoil can sometimes lead to accidents, as in this case of toppled rail cars downslope. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 12th, 2017: Figure 10. A close-up of the North Portal spoil pile from February 2017 shows that accumulations had begun move westward with a broadening of the top and bottom west side of the pile. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 1. DigitalGlobe imagery showing large shipping container or crate seen at the North Portal. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 2. DigitalGlobe imagery showing no changes to pattern and texture of tailings (spoil) pile at the North Portal. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 3. DigitalGlobe imagery showing a small vehicle present at the West Portal. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 4. DigitalGlobe imagery showing a truck present in the southern courtyard of the Main Administrative Area. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 5. DigitalGlobe imagery showing a truck present at the sites Command Center. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 7th, 2017: Figure 6. DigitalGlobe imagery showing snow cleared at guard barrack and security checkpoint. Date: March 7, 2017. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 24, 2016: Figure 2. No activity seen at the Sohae launch pad. Date: October 24, 2016. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 24, 2016: Figure 3. Environmental shed remains adjacent to the vertical engine test stand. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 29, 2016: Figure 1C. Increased activity around the North Portal throughout October. Date: October 29, 2016. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
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Following that launch, Washington began talks with China on possible new U.N. sanctions. Traditionally, the United States and China have negotiated new measures before involving remaining council members.

The United States sees China as key, U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Wood told reporters on a conference call.

"I'm not going to talk about various policy options that we may or may not consider, but I will say this: we are certainly engaged right now in looking at a number of measures - political, economic, security - to deal with these provocative acts by the DPRK, and dangerous acts in many cases," he said, using the initials of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"So we are going to be raising the level of engagement with China on this issue. China really is the key in dealing with the North Korea issue. Ninety percent of the DPRK's trade is with China, so clearly there is a lot more leverage that China has, and we would like China to use."

The Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2006 and has strengthened the measures in response to its five nuclear tests and two long-range rocket launches. Pyongyang is threatening a sixth nuclear test.

Trump warned in an interview with Reuters this month that a "major, major conflict" with North Korea was possible. In a show of force, the United States sent an aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, to waters off the Korean peninsula to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.

Admiral Harry Harris, the top U.S. commander in the Asia-Pacific, said on Tuesday continued missile launches by North Korea showed the importance of the alliance between Japan and the United States.

"The actions of North Korea are unacceptable," Harris said at the start of a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. "It underscores not only the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, but also U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral cooperation."

Harris is to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defence Minister Tomomi Inada later in the day.

The U.S. Seventh Fleet carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, left Yokosuka in Japan on Tuesday on its regular spring patrol and will be out for around three to four months, according to a Seventh Fleet spokesman.

The spokesman declined to say where it was bound and added he was not aware how long the Carl Vinson would remain in the region.

Apart from worries about North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs, cyber security researchers have found technical evidence they said could link North Korea with the global WannaCry "ransomware" cyber attack that has infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries since Friday.

Symantec and Kaspersky Lab said on Monday some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programs used by the Lazarus Group, which researchers from many companies have identified as a North Korea-run hacking operation.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO, Tom Miles in GENEVA and Ju-min Park in SEOUL; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Paul Tait)

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