White House calls North Korean ballistic missile test a 'provocation'

In their first test since President Trump was elected, North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the ocean early Sunday morning.

Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters
Passengers at a railway station in Seoul on Sunday watch a TV screen broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast.

According to South Korean defense officials and United States Strategic Command, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile Sunday morning. The missile was likely an intermediate-range Musudan-class missile, not an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which North Korea has said they could test any day.

In what is the first test of the kind such the beginning of Trump’s presidency, the missile traveled eastward to about 300 miles from the North Korean coast before landing in the Sea of Japan, testing President Trump’s resolve in following his campaign rhetoric of toughening policies on North Korea.

A US official told Reuters that the administration had been expecting a “provocation” of this sort from North Korea since assuming office. "This was no surprise," the official said. "The North Korean leader likes to draw attention at times like this.”

South Korea immediately condemned the launch, saying it directly opposed resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council that prohibit North Korea from developing or testing ballistic and nuclear weapons.

According to The New York Times, the South Korean military issued a statement saying, “We see this as part of an attempt by the North to grab attention by demonstrating its nuclear and missile capabilities and to counter the new United States administration’s strong policy line against North Korea.”

Coming just as President Trump was hosting the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., the two leaders quickly called a joint news conference where Mr. Abe declared that “North Korea's most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable. North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” quoted CNN from the resort.

Following Abe’s statement, President Trump affirmed his support. “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”

Last year saw an unprecedented 24 missile tests and a satellite launch from North Korea, demonstrating the how the country’s weapons technology was advancing towards the development of ICBMs. In fact, North Korea claimed in January that they have the capability to launch an ICBM at any time from any location – a threat whose truth remains unverified.

Such tests stand in direct opposition to tightened sanctions on the North Korean weapons program issued by the United Nations Security Council, leading to questions about the effectiveness of such sanctions. According to The New York Times, diplomats believe that the more recent sanctions could undermine the Asian nation’s ability to fundraise and develop technology necessary to develop nuclear capabilities.

Yet the latest launch raises questions about President Trump’s intention to toughen US policy on North Korea, something he repeatedly spoke of during his campaign. Even just two days before President Trump referred to North Korea’s nuclear program as a “very very high priority” in a phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Reuters.

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