U.S. condemns North's longest-range missile test since 2017
With its latest IRBM launch, North Korea is seen to be nearing a suspension of its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, a move which would be seen by the United States as crossing a red line.
Washington in turn asked the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to hold an emergency meeting as early as Thursday to discuss Pyongyang's test-launch of an IRBM, according to media reports.
North Korea fired an IRBM from Mupyong-ri in Jagang Province, near the border with China, into the East Sea at 7:52 a.m. Sunday, according to the South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile was fired at a steep angle and flew about 800 kilometers (497 miles) with a top altitude of 2,000 kilometers.
On the same day, President Moon Jae-in presided over a plenary session of the South's National Security Council (NSC) for the first time in around a year and warned that North Korea is "close to breaking its moratorium declaration."
North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches since late 2017, which allowed diplomacy with the United States beginning in 2018.
Moon at the meeting described the situation as similar to a period of escalated tensions in 2017, when North Korea launched a series of intermediate and long-range missiles amid "fire and fury" rhetoric from the Donald Trump administration. It is rare for Moon to preside over an NSC meeting in person, having convened 11 sessions over the past five years, indicating that Seoul considers the situation serious.
The NSC condemned the latest IRBM launch, calling it a "challenge to UN Security Council resolutions and the international community's demand for a diplomatic solution to the denuclearization and peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula."
The NSC in a statement urged North Korea to "immediately halt actions that create tension on the Korean Peninsula and cause instability in the region and to maintain a moratorium and take the path to a diplomatic solution as soon as possible."
However, the NSC stopped short of using the word "provocation," a term Pyongyang has reacted sensitively to. The NSC last used the term in a statement on Sept. 15, 2021.
North Korean state media on Monday confirmed it had test-fired a "Hwasong 12-type ground-to-ground intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile" the previous day.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the test aimed to "evaluate" the missile and "verify the overall accuracy of the weapon system." It said it "confirmed the accuracy, security and effectiveness of the operation" of the Hwasong 12 missile.
According to the KCNA, the launch was conducted from the "highest-angle launch system from the northwestern part of the country toward the waters of the East Sea of Korea in consideration of the security of neighboring countries."
The KCNA released photos of the missile being launched from a transporter erector launcher and imagery from the North's Academy of Defense Science it claimed to be taken by a camera installed on the missile warhead from space.
A Hwasong-12 IRBM was previously fired by the North in September 2017 and has a range of up to 5,500 kilometers, according to South Korean and U.S. military authorities, which could put the U.S. territory of Guam in its range.
This marks the North's seventh missile launch in this year alone.
It is also the North's most powerful missile test since the test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in November 2017. North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing in April 2018 enabling a series of unprecedented summits with the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proclaimed Pyongyang will no longer be bound to this self-imposed moratorium in January 2020, after denuclearization negotiations with Washington collapsed in the Hanoi summit in February 2019, but has stuck to shorter-range missile tests in the past two years.
Most recently, Pyongyang hinted at ending its halt on nuclear weapons and ICBM tests in a ruling Workers' Party Politburo meeting presided by Kim on Jan. 20 and vowed to prepare for a "long-term confrontation" with the United States.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken "condemned" North Korea's recent ballistic missile launches in a phone call with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, according to the State Department.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on the same day "denounced" North Korea's recent missile tests in a telephone call with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo.
She called the "escalatory ballistic missile launches" violations of UN Security Council resolutions that were "destabilizing to the region" and discussed "ongoing efforts to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Sherman, however, highlighted Washington's "continued readiness to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy" with North Korea in order to make tangible progress toward denuclearization.
Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, held phone conversations with South Korea's top nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk and their Japanese counterpart Funakoshi Takehiro on Saturday and Sunday to likewise discuss Pyongyang's latest launch.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement Tuesday said the North's latest launch is a "breaking" of its "announced moratorium in 2018 on launches of this nature, and a clear violation of Security Council resolutions." He urged Pyongyang to "desist from taking any further counter-productive actions and calls for all parties to seek a peaceful diplomatic solution."
The U.S. mission to the UN, backed by Britain and France, requested for a closed-door meeting Thursday, reported Reuters and AFP, citing diplomatic sources. The meeting could be an opportunity for the 15-member council to come up with a unified message against the North. China and Russia, veto-wielding members of the Security Council, have traditionally spoken up for North Korea.
The Security Council last held a closed-door meeting on Jan. 10 to discuss the North's launch of a hypersonic missile but did not decide on any actions.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]