Seoul | North Korea tried and failed to test-fire what appeared to be a medium-range missile on the birthday of founding leader Kim Il-Sung, the United States said, denouncing the move as another needless provocation.
The missile disappeared from surveillance radar a few seconds after its launch and is believed to have exploded midair, according to a Seoul intelligence official quoted by Yonhap news agency. There had been widespread intelligence reports in recent days that the North was preparing for the first-ever flight test of its Musudan missile, which is believed to be capable of striking US bases on the Pacific island of Guam.
The US and South Korean militaries both detected and tracked the early morning test. A US defence official said the missile was presumably a Musudan. On board a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea as part of a regional tour, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter hit out at North Korea for raising tensions.
The North Korean missile launch, which we assessed was unsuccessful, was nevertheless another provocation by North Korea in a region that doesn’t need that kind of behaviour, Carter told reporters.
The April 15 birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong-Un is a major public holiday in North Korea, where key political anniversaries are often marked with displays of military muscle.
The country is also gearing up for a rare and much-hyped ruling party congress next month, at which Kim Jong-Un is expected to take credit for pushing the country’s nuclear weapons programme to new heights.
Pyongyang has hailed a series of achievements in recent months, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile, developing a warhead that can withstand atmospheric re-entry, and building a solid-fuel missile engine.
Last week, it said it had successfully tested an engine designed for an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would guarantee an eventual nuclear strike on the US mainland. Outside experts have treated a number of the claims with scepticism, while acknowledging that the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes have both made significant strides.
If today’s failure is confirmed as a Musudan test, it would mark a very unwelcome public failure and fuel doubts about just how far the North has gone in developing a reliable nuclear delivery system. We are monitoring and continuing to assess the situation, another US official said, calling on North Korea to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region.
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