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Latest N. Korean Missle Test Fails     04/29 10:39

   A North Korean mid-range ballistic missile apparently failed shortly after 
launch Saturday, South Korea and the United States said, the third test-fire 
flop just this month but a clear message of defiance as a U.S. supercarrier 
conducts drills in nearby waters.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A North Korean mid-range ballistic missile 
apparently failed shortly after launch Saturday, South Korea and the United 
States said, the third test-fire flop just this month but a clear message of 
defiance as a U.S. supercarrier conducts drills in nearby waters.

   North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned by the United Nations 
because they're seen as part of the North's push for a nuclear-tipped missile 
that can hit the U.S. mainland. The latest test came as U.S. officials pivoted 
from a hard line to diplomacy at the U.N. in an effort to address what may be 
Washington's most pressing foreign policy challenge.

   President Donald Trump said on Twitter, "North Korea disrespected the wishes 
of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though 
unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!" He did not answer reporters' questions 
about the missile launch upon returning to the White House from a day trip to 
Atlanta.

   North Korea didn't immediately comment on the launch, though its state media 
on Saturday reiterated the country's goal of being able to strike the 
continental U.S.

   The timing of the North's test was striking: Only hours earlier the U.N. 
Security Council held a ministerial meeting on Pyongyang's escalating weapons 
program. North Korean officials boycotted the meeting, which was chaired by 
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

   South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile 
flew for several minutes and reached a maximum height of 71 kilometers (44 
miles) before it apparently failed.

   It didn't immediately provide an estimate on how far the missile flew, but a 
U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, 
said it was likely a medium-range KN-17 ballistic missile. It broke up a few 
minutes after the launch.

   Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking after a meeting of 
Japan's National Security Council, said the missile is believed to have 
traveled about 50 kilometers (30 miles) and fallen on an inland part of North 
Korea.

   Analysts say the KN-17 is a new Scud-type missile developed by North Korea. 
The North fired the same type of missile April 16, just a day after a massive 
military parade where it showed off its expanding missile arsenal, but U.S. 
officials called that launch a failure.

   Some analysts say a missile the North test fired April 5, which U.S. 
officials identified as a Scud variant, also might have been a KN-17. U.S. 
officials said that missile spun out of control and crashed into the sea.

   Moon Seong Mook, a South Korean analyst and former military official, says 
that the North would gain valuable knowledge even from failed launches as it 
continues to improve its technologies for missiles. The South Korean and 
Japanese assessments about Saturday's launch indicate that the North fired the 
missile from a higher-than-normal angle to prevent it from flying too far, he 
said.

   "They could be testing a variety of things, such as the thrust of the rocket 
engine or the separation of stages," Moon said. "A failure is a failure, but 
that doesn't mean the launch was meaningless."

   The two earlier launches were conducted from an eastern coastal area, but 
Saturday's missile was fired in the west, from an area near Pukchang, just 
north of the capital, Pyongyang.

   South Korea's Foreign Ministry denounced the launch as an "obvious" 
violation of United Nations resolutions and the latest display of North Korea's 
"belligerence and recklessness."

   "We sternly warn that the North Korean government will continue to face a 
variety of strong punitive measures issued by the U.N. Security Council and 
others if it continues to reject denuclearization and play with fire in front 
of the world," the ministry said.

   The North routinely test-fires a variety of ballistic missiles, despite U.N. 
prohibitions, as part of its weapons development. While shorter-range missiles 
are somewhat routine, there is strong outside worry about each longer-range 
North Korean ballistic test.

   Saturday's launch comes at a point of particularly high tension. Trump has 
sent a nuclear-powered submarine and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft supercarrier 
to Korean waters, and North Korea this week conducted large-scale, live-fire 
exercises on its eastern coast. The U.S. and South Korea also started 
installing a missile defense system that is supposed to be partially 
operational within days, while their two navies began joint military drills 
later Saturday.

   The South Korean navy said the drills are aimed at "deterring North Korea's 
provocations and displaying the firm alliance between the United States and 
South Korea."

   On Friday, the United States and China offered starkly different strategies 
for addressing North Korea's escalating nuclear threat as Tillerson demanded 
full enforcement of economic sanctions on Pyongyang and urged new penalties. 
Stepping back from suggestions of U.S. military action, he even offered aid to 
North Korea if it ends its nuclear weapons program.

   The range of Tillerson's suggestions, which over a span of 24 hours also 
included restarting negotiations, reflected America's failure to halt North 
Korea's nuclear advances despite decades of U.S.-led sanctions, military 
threats and stop-and-go rounds of diplomatic engagement. As the North 
approaches the capability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped 
missile, the Trump administration feels it is running out of time.

   Chairing a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, 
Tillerson declared that "failing to act now on the most pressing security issue 
in the world may bring catastrophic consequences."

   His ideas included a ban on North Korean coal imports and preventing its 
overseas guest laborers, a critical source of government revenue, from sending 
money home. And he warned of unilateral U.S. moves against international firms 
conducting banned business with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, which 
could ensnare banks in China, the North's primary trade partner.

   Yet illustrating the international gulf over how best to tackle North Korea, 
several foreign ministers on the 15-member council expressed fears of a 
conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which was divided between the American-backed 
South and communist North even before the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict 
ended with no formal peace treaty. And while danger always has lurked, tensions 
have escalated dramatically as the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, has 
expanded a nuclear arsenal his government says is needed to avert a U.S. 
invasion.

   No voice at Friday's session was more important than that of China, a 
conduit for 90 percent of North Korea's commerce and a country Trump is pinning 
hopes on for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis. Trump, who recently 
hosted President Xi Jinping for a Florida summit, has sometimes praised the 
Chinese leader for a newfound cooperation to crack down on North Korea and 
sometimes threatened a go-it-alone U.S. approach if Xi fails to deliver.

   Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would adhere to past U.N. resolutions 
and wants a denuclearized peninsula. But he spelled out no further punitive 
steps his government might consider, despite Tillerson's assertions in an 
interview hours ahead of the council meeting that Beijing would impose 
sanctions of its own if North Korea conducts another nuclear test.

   Wang put forward a familiar Chinese idea to ease tensions: North Korea 
suspending its nuclear and missile activities if the U.S. and South Korea stop 
military exercises in the region. Washington and Seoul reject the idea.

   Tillerson said the U.S. does not seek regime change in North Korea, and he 
signaled American openness to holding direct negotiations with Pyongyang. The 
U.S. also could resume aid to North Korea once it "begins to dismantle its 
nuclear weapons and missile technology programs," he said. Since 1995, he 
added, Washington has provided more than $1.3 billion to the impoverished 
country.

   But the prospects for any more U.S. money going there appeared bleak. Even 
negotiations don't seem likely.

   Tillerson said the North must take "concrete steps" to reduce its weapons 
threat before talks could occur. Six-nation nuclear negotiations with North 
Korea stalled in 2009. The Obama administration sought to resurrect them in 
2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon 
collapsed.

   "In a nutshell, (North Korea) has already declared not to attend any type of 
talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment, nuclear disbandment," Kim In 
Ryong, North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press. His 
government declined to attend Friday's council meeting.


(KA)

 
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