SEOUL (REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST) – North Korea fired a missile on Friday (Sept 15)  that flew over Japan’s northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean, South Korean and Japanese officials said, further ratcheting up tensions after Pyongyang’s recent test of a powerful nuclear bomb.

It was fired from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at around 6.30am local time, travelled around 3,700 km over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. It reached a maximum altitude of 770 km,

“The range of this test was significant since North Korea demonstrated that it could reach Guam with this missile, although the payload the missile was carrying is not known. Guam lies 3,400 km from North Korea, and Pyongyang has talked about it as a target because of the presence of US forces at Anderson Air Force Base,” wrote scientist David Wright  on his blog.

The 3,700km range travelled by the missile would have put the US island territory of Guam within reach, if it had been on a different trajectory. But the US military said the missile did not pose a threat to North America or the US Pacific territory of Guam.

The US Pacific Command, citing an initial assessment, said it had detected the launch of a single North Korean intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) that flew over northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean. Japan said it is possibly the same type of missile fired over Japan on Aug 29 – a Hwasong-12 IRBM. 

In Washington, the White House said President Donald Trump was briefed on the latest North Korean missile launch by his chief of staff, John Kelly.  Details are still emerging, but Friday’s launch appeared similar to the last missile launch which also flew over Japan, on Aug 29.

The latest missile launch came a day after the North threatened to sink Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for supporting a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against it for its Sept 3 nuclear test.  The new sanctions included limits on imports of crude oil and a ban on textile exports.

The UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launch from Sunan near the capital Pyongyang, Reuters said, citing diplomats. 

North Korea watchers said Pyongyang  may shoot a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the future, reported Yonhap news agency. The North plans to celebrate the founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party on Oct 10.

North Korea on Friday  threatened to take “stronger” actions against the US in a commentary published in the Rodong Sinmun, a mouthpiece of the ruling party.  “If the US continues to walk on the current course, we will take stronger actions for our self-defence, 

“The US should face up to a grim reality and make a decision to give up its hostile policy towards Pyongyang. It should make a wise decision to detach itself from issues on the Korean Peninsula,” it said.

The  latest missile reached an altitude of about 770,000m and flew 3,700km, according to South Korea’s military – far enough to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam and farther than the Hwasong-12 missile it flew over Japan last month.

 Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a hastily organised media conference on Friday: “These repeated provocations on the part of North Korea are unpermissible and we protest in the strongest words.

As the missile blasted off at 6.30am local time, South Korea almost simultaneously launched its Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile off its east coast in a simulated pre-emptive attack, South Korean defence officials said. 

Last month, the intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile that was fired from Sunan reached an altitude of 550,000m.  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had said the Aug 29  firing was a “meaningful prelude” to containing the US Pacific island territory of Guam and the start of more ballistic missile launches targeting the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, the US general who oversees America’s nuclear forces said that he was making the assumption that North Korea did, in fact, test a hydrogen bomb on Sept 3, crossing a key threshold in its weapons development efforts.

Although Pyongyang immediately claimed it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, the United States had previously declined to characterise it.

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