WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused North Korea on Friday (Sept 15) of threatening the entire world, after Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan for the second time in under a month in defiance of international pressure over its missile and nuclear programmes.
In the latest attempt to deal with an issue that has repeatedly frustrated world powers, the UN Security Council was due to meet at 3pm ET on Friday (3am on Saturday, Singapore time) to discuss the missile launch, at the request of the United States and Japan.
The council’s 15 members unanimously stepped up sanctions against North Korea over a nuclear bomb test it staged on Sept 3, imposing a ban on North Korea’s textile exports and capping its imports of crude oil.
North Korea has launched dozens of missiles under leader Kim Jong Un as it accelerates a weapons programme designed to give it the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.
Tillerson said in a speech to foreign officials that the tests threaten the world and stressed the United States was working closely with regional allies Japan and South Korea.
“In East Asia, an increasingly aggressive and isolated regime in North Korea threatens democracies in South Korea, Japan, and more importantly, and more recently, has expanded those threats to the United States, endangering the entire world,” Tillerson said.
On Thursday, Tillerson called on China, Pyongyang’s only ally, and Russia to apply more pressure on North Korea by“taking direct actions of their own.” But Beijing pushed back.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied that China held the key to easing tension on the Korean peninsula and said that duty lay with the parties directly involved. She also reiterated China’s position that sanctions on North Korea are only effective if paired with talks.
The latest missile flew over Hokkaido in northern Japan and landed in the Pacific about 2,000km to the east, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
It travelled about 3,700km in total, according to South Korea’s military, far enough to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam, which the North has threatened before.
“The range of this test was significant since North Korea demonstrated that it could reach Guam with this missile,” the Union of Concerned Scientists advocacy group said in a statement. However, the accuracy of the missile, still at an early stage of development, was low, it said.
Two tests in July were for long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching at least parts of the US mainland. North Korea also staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb test earlier this month.
Last month, North Korea fired an intermediate range missile from a similar area near the capital Pyongyang that also flew over Hokkaido into the ocean.
Warning announcements about the latest missile blared around 7am in parts of northern Japan, while many residents received alerts on their mobile phones or saw warnings on TV telling them to seek refuge.
The US military said soon after the launch it had detected a single intermediate range ballistic missile but it did not pose a threat to North America or Guam, which lies 3,400km from North Korea.
The missile reached an altitude of about 770km and flew for about 19 minutes, according to South Korea’s military.
On global markets, shares and other risk assets barely moved and gold fell as traders paid little attention to the latest missile test, shifting their focus to where and when interest rates will go up.
DIFFERENCES OVER DIRECT TALKS
US President Donald Trump has promised not to allow North Korea to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbour.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the launch in a phone call with French President Emanuel Macron and agreed on the need for a diplomatic solution, including through resuming direct talks on North Korea.
Asked about the prospect for direct talks, a White House spokesman said, “As the president and his national security team have repeatedly said, now is not the time to talk to North Korea.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in also said dialogue with the North was impossible at this point. He ordered officials to analyse and prepare for possible new North Korean threats, including electromagnetic pulse and biochemical attacks, a spokesman said.
The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty. The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.
David Wright, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the latest test had demonstrated North Korea could reach Guam with a Hwasong 12 missile, although it was not known what payload the missile was carrying.
Wright said it would be difficult for North Korea to use the missile to destroy Anderson US Air Force Base in Guam given what is known about its guidance systems, even if the missile was carrying a high-yield warhead.
He estimated the inaccuracy of the Hwasong 12 at 5-10km, possibly more.
“Even assuming the missile carried a 150-kiloton warhead, which may be the yield of North Korea’s recent nuclear test, a missile of this inaccuracy would still have well under a 10 per cent chance of destroying the air base.”
A poll by Gallup Analytics suggested a majority of Americans appeared ready to support military action against North Korea, at least as a last resort.