A passerby walks past a TV screen reporting news about North Korea’s missle launch in Tokyo, Japan September 15, 2017. REUTERS / Issei Kato
SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan’s northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, further ratcheting up tensions after Pyongyang’s recent test of its most powerful nuclear bomb.
The missile flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) east of Hokkaido, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in a hastily organized media conference.
“These repeated provocations on the part of North Korea are impermissible and we protest in the strongest words,” Suga said.
Warning announcements about the missile blared around 7 a.m. (2200 GMT Thursday) in the town of Kamaishi, northern Japan, footage from national broadcaster NHK showed.
The missile reached an altitude of about 770 km (480 miles) and flew for about 19 minutes over a distance of about 3,700 km (2,300 miles), according to South Korea’s military – far enough to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
(For graphic on North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, click tmsnrt.rs/2vXbj0S)
The U.S. military said soon after that it had detected a single intermediate range ballistic missile.
North Korea has launched dozens of missiles under young leader Kim Jong Un as it accelerates a weapons program designed to give it the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.
“This rocket has meaning in that North Korea is pushing towards technological completion of its missiles and that North Korea may be feeling some pressure that they need to show the international community something,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.
Last month, North Korea fired a missile from similar area near the capital Pyongyang that also flew over Hokkaido into the ocean. Two tests in July were for long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching at least parts of the U.S. mainland.
“ASHES AND DARKNESS”
South Korea said it had fired a missile test into the sea to coincide with North Korea’s launch and the presidential Blue House has called an urgent National Security Council meeting. Japan also convened a National Security Council meeting.
The North’s launch came a day after Pyongyang threatened to sink Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against it for its Sept. 3 nuclear test, its sixth and most powerful by far.
The U.S. general who oversees America’s nuclear forces said on Thursday he was making the assumption that the test was in fact a hydrogen bomb, as Pyongyang had claimed, based on the size of the blast.
“I‘m assuming it was a hydrogen bomb,” said Air Force General John Hyten, head of the U.S. military’s Strategic Command. “I have to make that assumption as a military officer,” Hyten told a small group of reporters who were accompanying Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on a trip to Hyten’s headquarters in Nebraska.
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.
Australia, a strong and vocal ally of the United States, quickly condemned the launch.
“This is another dangerous, reckless, criminal act by the North Korean regime, threatening the stability of the region and the world and we condemn it, utterly,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in an interview with Sky News on Friday.
“This is a sign, I believe, of their frustration at the increased sanctions on North Korea, recently imposed by the Security Council. It’s a sign that the sanctions are working,” he said.
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on a U.S.-drafted resolution and a new round of sanctions on Monday, banning North Korea’s textile exports and capping fuel supplies.
The U.S. dollar fell sharply against the safe-haven yen and Swiss franc in early Asian hours in response to the launch, although losses were quickly pared in very jittery trade.
U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest launch, the White House said.
Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor. China in turn favors an international response to the problem.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.
Reporting by Jack Kim and Christine Kim in SEOUL and Hideyuki Sano in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Paul Tait
Tillerson, in new overture to North Korea, says ready to talk without pre-conditions
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the U.S.-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from U.S. demands that Pyongyang must first accept that any negotiations would have to be about giving up its nuclear arsenal.
“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank, presenting a new diplomatic overture amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile advances and harsh rhetoric between the two sides.
Tensions have flared anew since North Korea said it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile last month in what it called a “breakthrough” that put the U.S. mainland within range.
While reiterating Washington’s long-standing position that it cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, Tillerson said the United States was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk”, but that there would first have to be a “period of quiet” without nuclear and missile tests.
Tillerson also disclosed that the United States had been talking to China about how to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons in the event of a collapse of the government in Pyongyang, and that Beijing had been given assurances that if U.S. forces had to cross into North Korea they would pull back across the border into the South.
But he made clear that the United States wants to resolve the North Korea standoff through peaceful diplomacy and, in terms far more tempered than President Donald Trump’s recent threats against Pyongyang, offered to hold exploratory talks.
“We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table,” he said.
“Then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work toward,” Tillerson said, suggesting that any initial contacts would be about setting the ground rules for formal negotiations.
DOES TILLERSON HAVE TRUMP‘S BACKING?
It was not immediately clear whether Tillerson, whose influence has appeared to wane within the administration, had Trump’s full support to seek such a diplomatic opening.
Tillerson has previously expressed a desire to use diplomatic channels with Pyongyang, but Trump tweeted in October that such engagement would be a waste of time.
North Korea, for its part, has made clear that it has little interest in negotiations with the United States until it has developed the ability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, something most experts say it has still not achieved.
“We’re ready to have the first meeting without pre-conditions,” Tillerson said.
“It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program,” he said. “They have too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”
Tillerson’s comments appeared to mark a shift from previous statements by senior U.S. officials that North Korea would have to show it is serious about discussing nuclear disarmament before formal talks could begin.
Tillerson also said that the United States was working to tighten enforcement of international sanctions against North Korea, especially further measures that China can apply, and that Washington had a full menu of military options if such a response is needed.
“It is important that the diplomatic effort be backed up with a very credible military alternative,” he said, adding that Trump “intends to make sure that they do not have a deliverable nuclear weapon to the shores of the United States.”
He called on North Korea to show restraint.
“It’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decided to test another device,” Tillerson said. “So we continue to indicate to them that we need a period of quiet. You need to tell us you want to talk.”
The United Nations political affairs chief told senior North Korean officials during a visit to Pyongyang this week that there was an “urgent need to prevent miscalculations and open channels to reduce the risks of conflict,” the world body said.
Jeffrey Feltman, the highest-level U.N. official to visit North Korea since 2011, met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk, the United Nations said in a statement on Saturday after Feltman arrived back in Beijing.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Clive McKeef and James Dalgleish
US declaration of Jerusalem sparks protests in the Arab world
Palestinian authorities had called a general strike in protest at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem announcement on Wednesday, which reversed decades of peacemaking policy regarding a city that Palestinians also see as their capital.
“This decision will not pass, not in your dreams. It will not pass, over the dead bodies of Arabs and bodies of Palestinians. We are here in the diaspora, in every location, we will fight this decision. We will fight this decision with iron and fire. We call upon Palestinian leadership to resist,” said Mohammed Salahat, a protester.
In Jordan, hundreds of Jordanians gathered near the U.S. Embassy in capital Amman. King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Amman sensitive to any changes in the status of the city. Many people in Jordan are descendants of Palestinian refugees whose families left after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
“We know that standing here and listening to the young people shouting whatever they want to say don’t bring us nearer to our cause, to our solution, but at least you feel you want to express your anger at the whole world,” said Jihad, a protester.
In Egypt, a makeshift Israeli flag was burned during the demonstration as well as a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and protesters insisted on Jerusalem’s Arabian roots.
“I am here like every other Egyptian and Arab against trump’s decision. I see it as insulting, aggressive, and arrogance that we cannot accept, and we believe in our right of Jerusalem being Arab and Palestine as well,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a former Egyptian presidential candidate.
In Turkey, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Thursday to denounce the declaration. The protest was largely peaceful, although police took security measures and U.S. soldiers were seen on the roof of the embassy building.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim added that the United States “pulled the pin on a bomb” in the Middle East with its decision.
“[The United States] has pulled the pin on a bomb ready to blow in the region. First of all, as Turkey, we consider this decision null and void. Secondly, Jerusalem, and particularly the Al-Aqsa mosque, is considered a holy place by three religions. So a decision that changes or questions this status will stir up a big catastrophe,” said the prime minister.
The status of Jerusalem has been one of the thorniest issues in long-running Mideast peace efforts. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, believing its status should be resolved in negotiations. No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem. — Reuters
North Korea says U.S. threats make war unavoidable on Korean peninsula: KCNA
U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets take part in a joint aerial drill exercise called ‘Vigilant Ace’ between U.S. and South Korea, at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
SEOUL (Reuters) – Large military drills being carried out by the United States and South Korea and U.S. threats of a preemptive war against Pyongyang have made the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula “an established fact”, North Korea’s foreign ministry said.
A spokesman for the North’s foreign ministry also blamed “confrontational warmongering” remarks by U.S. officials for pushing the peninsula to the brink of war.
“The remaining question now is: when will the war break out?” the spokesman said late on Wednesday in a statement carried by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.
“We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it,” he said.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen markedly in recent months after North Korea’s latest missile and nuclear tests, conducted in defiance of international pressure and United Nations resolutions.
North Korea said last week it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile yet, which was capable of reaching the United States.
White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at the weekend the possibility of war with North Korea was “increasing every day”.
U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also urged the Pentagon on Sunday to start moving U.S. military dependants, such as spouses and children, out of South Korea, saying conflict with North Korea was getting close.
On Wednesday, a U.S. B-1B bomber joined the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which are called “Vigilant Ace” and will run until Friday.
North Korea, which regularly threatens South Korea, the United States and their allies, has denounced the exercises.
“Recently, as the U.S. is conducting the largest-ever joint aerial drill on the Korean peninsula targeting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its high-level politicians are showing alarming signs by making bellicose remarks one after another,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said, using North Korea’s official name.
“These confrontational war-mongering remarks cannot be interpreted in any other way but as a warning to us to be prepared for a war on the Korean peninsula,” he said.
The rising tensions coincide with a rare visit to the isolated North by United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman this week, the highest-level U.N. official to visit North Korea since 2012.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk met Feltman in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Wednesday and discussed bilateral cooperation and other issues of mutual interest, KCNA said.
Reporting by Soyoung Kim in Seoul; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait