SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile early on Sunday that flew 700 kilometres (430 miles), South Korea’s military said, days after a new leader took office in the South pledging to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang.
The missile was fired from the region of Kusong, northwest of Pyongyang, where the North in February successfully test-launched an intermediate-range missile that it is believed to be developing.
Japan said the latest missile reached an altitude of more than 2,000 km (1,245 miles) and flew for 30 minutes before dropping into the sea between North Korea’s east coast and Japan. The North has consistently test-fired missiles in that direction.
Sunday’s launch, at 5:27 a.m. Seoul time (2027 GMT Saturday), came two weeks after North Korea fired a missile that disintegrated minutes into flight, marking its fourth consecutive failure since March.
The U.S. Pacific Command said it was assessing the type of missile but it was “not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile”.
“U.S. Pacific Command is fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security,” a spokesperson said, referring to South Korea by its official name.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office on Wednesday, held his first National Security Council meeting as president in response to North Korea’s latest missile launch, which he called a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the presidential office said.
“The president said while South Korea remains open to the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, it is only possible when the North shows a change in attitude,” Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s press secretary, said at a briefing.
Moon won Tuesday’s election on a platform of a moderate approach to North Korea and has said he would be willing to go to Pyongyang under the right circumstances, arguing dialogue must be used in parallel with sanctions to resolve its neighbour’s defiance of the international community.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Sunday that North Korea’s repeated missile launches are a “grave threat to our country and a clear violation of UN resolutions.”
Abe said Japan will stay in close touch with the United States and South Korea.
Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment when he was asked whether the latest missile launch was a success, and whether it represented a new level of threat.
MISSILE TESTS AT UNPRECEDENTED PACE
North Korea launched the Pukguksong-2 missile, an upgraded, extended-range version of its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), from the same Kusong site on Feb 12.
South Korean and U.S. military officials said the February launch was a significant development as it successfully tested a solid-fuel engine from a mobile launcher. The missile flew about 500 km with an altitude of 550 km.
It represented a more significant threat because of the difficulty of tracking a mobile launcher and because of the ability to keep the missile fuelled in advance, unlike liquid fuel rockets.
The North attempted but failed to test-launch ballistic missiles four consecutive times in the past two months but has conducted a variety of missile tests since the beginning of last year at an unprecedented pace.
Weapons experts and government officials believe the North has accomplished some technical progress with those tests.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned in an interview with Reuters in late April that a “major, major conflict” with the North was possible, but he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute over its nuclear and missile programmes.
On Saturday, a senior North Korean diplomat who is a veteran member of its nuclear negotiating team, said the country was open to dialogue with the Trump administration under the right conditions, without elaborating.
Choe Son Hui, the North’s Foreign Ministry director general for U.S. affairs, spoke to reporters while in transit in Beijing after attending a conference with former U.S. officials in Norway.
South Korea, the United States and other regional powers have been stepping up efforts to diffuse tensions over the North’s weapons programme after a sharp rise in tensions in April over concerns that it may conduct a sixth nuclear test.
North Korea has briefly reported on Moon’s election win and said conservatives in South Korea should be thrown out for good for inciting confrontation between the rival states.
There was no immediate reaction from China. Delegations from Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang are gathering in Beijing on Sunday to attend China’s new Silk Road forum, its biggest diplomatic event of the year.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Neil Fullick)