SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Just five days after South Korea elected a president who expressed a desire to reach out to North Korea, Pyongyang sent a challenge to its rival’s new leader on Sunday by test-firing a ballistic missile.
The missile flew for half an hour and reached an unusually high altitude before landing in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean, Japanese and U.S. militaries said. Tokyo said the flight pattern could indicate a new type of missile.
The launch jeopardizes new South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s willingness for dialogue with the North, and came as U.S., Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.
“The president expressed deep regret over the fact that this reckless provocation … occurred just days after a new government was launched in South Korea,” senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said. “The president said we are leaving open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but we should sternly deal with a provocation to prevent North Korea from miscalculating.”
Moon, South Korea’s first liberal leader in nearly a decade, said as he took his oath of office last week that he’d be willing to visit the North if the circumstances were right.
The U.N. Security Council said Sunday it will hold urgent consultations on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea. Uruguay holds the council presidency this month and its U.N. Mission announced the closed consultations will be held on Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said on ABC television’s George Stephanopolous show Sunday that the U.S. has been working well with China, Pyongyang’s closest ally, and she raised the possibility of new sanctions against North Korea including on oil imports.
The Security Council has adopted six increasingly tougher sanctions resolutions against North Korea
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has called North Korean ballistic and nuclear efforts unacceptable, but he has swung between threats of military action and offers to talk as it formulates a policy.
While Trump has said he’d be “honored” to talk with leader Kim Jong Un under favorable conditions, his administration on Sunday seemed to throw cold water on the idea of talks with North Korea.
“Having a missile test is not the way to sit down with the president, because he’s absolutely not going to do it,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told ABC’s “This Week.”
She said it was time to “send a strong, unified message that this is unacceptable, and I think you’ll see the international community do that.”
While it wasn’t immediately clear what type of missile was launched, the U.S. Pacific Command said that “the flight is not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile.”
North Korea’s past satellite rocket launches have been called clandestine tests of ICBM technology, but it is not believed to have tested a true intercontinental ballistic missile yet.
Japanese officials said the missile flew for about 30 minutes, traveling about 800 kilometers (500 miles) and reaching an unusually high altitude of 1,240 miles.
David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the missile could have a range of 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 miles) if flown on a standard, instead of a lofted, trajectory — considerably longer than Pyongyang’s current missiles. He said Sunday’s launch — the seventh such firing by North Korea this year — may have been of a new mobile, two-stage liquid-fueled missile North Korea displayed in a huge April 15 military parade.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the launch was “absolutely unacceptable” and that Japan would respond resolutely. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he and his South Korean counterpart agreed that “dialogue for dialogue’s sake with North Korea is meaningless.”
The White House took note of the missile landing close to Russia’s Pacific coast and said in a statement that North Korea has been “a flagrant menace for far too long.”