North Korea fired a missile over Japan on Tuesday, prompting the Japanese government to issue alerts and the South Koreans to scramble fighter jets in a major escalation of tensions over the communist state’s nuclear weapons program.
It was the second launch in three days and came as the U.S. and South Korea are wrapping up joint war games on the divided peninsula this week.
The Japanese government issued an alert for residents in some prefectures to take cover, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the missile test an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat” to the region.
Abe said he discussed the launch with President Donald Trump in a 40-minute phone call and they agreed on the need to call on the United Nations to step up pressure against the North. Trump was quoted as telling Abe the U.S. is with Japan “100 percent” and is committed to defending its ally.
South Korea’s military deployed four F-15K fighter jets that dropped eight bombs on a shooting range near the heavily fortified border with the North, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide the details.
The show of force followed an order by President Moon Jae-in to put the country’s military might on display, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
The North Korean missile was launched eastward from an area near the airport in the capital, Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s military.
It flew more than 1,677 miles at a maximum altitude of 342 miles, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. That’s a departure from recent missiles launched at a steep angle in an apparent bid to avoid flying over Japanese territory.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning confirmed that the missile flew over Japan, saying the military was still assessing the details.
Japanese government officials said the missile flew for 14 minutes and broke into three pieces before splashing into the Pacific about 730 miles east of scenic Cape Erimo.
Its path took it over the Oshima peninsula for some two minutes, but no debris was immediately discovered on Japanese territory and no damages to nearby ships or aircraft were reported, officials said.
The missile fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and was believed to be similar to one that was launched on May 14 at a lofted trajectory that allowed it to avoid Japanese territory, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Tokyo. It is believed that Tuesday’s missile was not launched with a lofted trajectory, he added.
Japan planned to call for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to seek additional pressure against North Korea, Abe said.
The Japanese government’s emergency information network system sent out alerts at 6:02 a.m. warning: “Missile launch. Missile launch. North Korea seemed to have launched missile. Please evacuate into substantial buildings or basements.”
Another alert was sent at 6:14 a.m., stating: “Missile passing. Missile passing. Missile seemed to have passed over this area. If unknown objects are found, do not go near them and notify the police and fire department immediately.”
The affected areas were Hokkaido, Aomori, Irate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Niigata and Nagano prefectures.
North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles on Saturday in what was seen as a protest against U.S.-South Korean war games taking place on the divided peninsula.
South Korea’s presidential office convened a National Security Council Meeting.
Tuesday’s launch was a blow to U.S. and South Korean efforts to restart long-stalled negotiations with the North, which has demonstrated rapid progress in its efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left the door open for talks even after Saturday’s missile test.
“We’re going to continue our peaceful pressure campaign, as I have described it, working with allies and working with China as well to see if we can bring the regime in Pyongyang to the negotiating table with a view to begin a dialogue on a different future for the Korean Peninsula and for North Korea,” Tillerson said Sunday.
U.S. commanders also have expressed hopes that diplomatic pressure would curb the North’s activities, while warning they are preparing military options.
A ban on Americans traveling to North Korea also is due to take effect on Friday. The U.S. government said the ban was due to the risk of “long-term detention” in the North after the death of American university student Otto Warmbier. Via Stars And Stripes
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