North Korea says more missiles to come as UN condemns launch

The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX35ZZF

WASHINGTON: A frustrated US President Donald Trump hit out at the slow pace of diplomacy Wednesday as nuclear-armed North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un threatened ever more missile tests.

UN diplomats secured yet another unanimous condemnation of Pyongyang’s tests on Tuesday after the North fired an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 over Japan.

But Kim was unmoved by the rebuke and boasted that the launch was a mere “curtain-raiser” — even after Trump issued another of his Twitter tirades.

“The US has been talking to North Korea and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” Trump declared, implying the threat of yet more sanctions or even a pre-emptive military strike.

Trump’s rhetoric was somewhat undercut, however, by calmer words from US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Speaking after talks with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-Moo, Mattis said: “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”

The Hwasong-12 — an intermediate-range missile capable of reaching Japanese cities or the US island of Guam — that Pyongyang launched on Tuesday represented a major escalation of tensions.

In recent weeks it has threatened to send a salvo of missiles towards Guam, the hub of US air power in the Pacific, while for his part Trump has warned of raining “fire and fury” on the North.

Trump insists “all options” are on the table, an implied threat of pre-emptive US military action, despite last week congratulating himself that Kim appeared to be “starting to respect us”.

The UN Security Council — which has already imposed seven sets of sanctions on Pyongyang — said the North’s ‘outrageous’ actions “are not just a threat to the region, but to all UN member states”.

Both the North’s key ally China and Russia, which also has ties to Pyongyang, backed the US-drafted declaration, but it will not immediately lead to new or tightened sanctions.

UN diplomats said members of the 15-member council had brought up the issue, but it was divided on how to proceed and the only idea revealed publicly was a British bid to prevent North Korean guest workers from traveling abroad.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party, on Wednesday carried more than 20 pictures of the launch near Pyongyang. One showed Kim smiling broadly at a desk with a map of the Northwest Pacific, surrounded by aides. Another showed him gazing upwards as the missile rose into the air.

South Korea’s military said Tuesday that it had traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 550 kilometers.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Kim as saying that “more ballistic rocket launching drills with the Pacific as a target in the future” were necessary.

Tuesday’s launch was a “meaningful prelude to containing Guam, the advanced base of invasion” and a “curtain-raiser” for the North’s “resolute countermeasures” against ongoing US-South Korean military exercises which the North regards as a rehearsal for invasion.

In Geneva, Ju Yong Chol, counselor to Pyongyang’s UN mission, to a disarmament conference that the test “was a strong warning to the US, which wages reckless and dangerous military provocation and the despicable campaign of sanctions against DPRK.”

Wednesday’s statements marked the first time the North has acknowledged firing a missile over Japan’s main islands. Two of its rockets previously did so, in 1998 and 2009, but on both occasions, Pyongyang claimed they were space launch vehicles.

Independent analysts posted images online suggesting that Kim’s map showed an intended flight path of 3,200 kilometers, implying that the missile may have fallen 500 kilometers short. A South Korean defense official told AFP they were still analyzing the North’s images.

Tuesday’s missile overflight triggered consternation in world capitals and on the ground, with blaring sirens and text message alerts in Japan warning people to take cover. At the Security Council emergency meeting US ambassador Nikki Haley warned that “enough is enough”.

“It’s unacceptable,” Haley said. “They have violated every single UN Security Council resolution that we’ve had, and so I think something serious has to happen.”

Despite Washington’s rhetoric, US officials privately echo the warning by Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon — that a pre-emptive strike against the North is impossible given its capacity to inflict massive retaliation on the South.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday that Beijing would make a “necessary response” to the launch, but said consensus would be needed on any fresh set of sanctions. He called for a resumption of talks and urged all parties to avoid actions that “may further escalate tensions”.

Pyongyang last month carried out its first two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile, apparently bringing much of the US mainland into range, but the Pentagon said Tuesday’s launch was judged not to have represented a threat.

Any missile fired by the North at Guam would have to pass over Japan, and analysts told AFP that Pyongyang appeared to have chosen Tuesday’s trajectory as a “half-way house” option to send a message without crossing a red line.

Nevertheless, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was nevertheless visibly unsettled, dubbing the launch an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat.”

KCNA said the launch was timed to mark the 107th anniversary of the ‘disgraceful’ Japan-Korea treaty of 1910, under which Tokyo colonized the Korean peninsula.

It ushered in a period of oppressive rule that only ended with Japan’s defeat in the Second World War and is resented by Koreans on both sides of the divided peninsula, complicating the relationship between Tokyo and Seoul — both of them US allies.