By Ju-min Park and Kaori Kaneko
SEOUL/TOKYO North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's northwest on Monday, angering South Korea and Japan, days after it promised retaliation over U.S.-South Korea military drills it sees as preparation for war.South Korea's military said the missiles were unlikely to have been intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which can reach the United States. They flew on average 1,000 km (620 miles) and reached an altitude of 260 km (160 miles).Graphic - North Korea's nuclear and missile threats: here Some landed as close as 300 km (190 miles) from Japan's northwest coast, Japan's Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said in Tokyo.The United States and Japan have requested a United Nations Security Council meeting on the launches, which will likely be scheduled for Wednesday, diplomats said. The U.S. military on Monday left open the possibility of additional launch attempts."There were four that landed. There may be a higher number of launches that we're not commenting on. But four landed and splashed in the Sea of Japan," Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told a news briefing.White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters the United States was taking steps to enhance "our ability to defend against ballistic missiles" such as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea."The launches are consistent with North Korea’s long history of provocative behaviour," Spicer said.Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said "strong protests" had been lodged with nuclear-armed North Korea, which has carried out a series of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions."The launches are clearly in violation of Security Council resolutions. It is an extremely dangerous action," Abe told parliament.
South Korea's acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn condemned the launches as a direct challenge to the international community and said Seoul would swiftly deploy a U.S. anti-missile defence system despite angry objections from China.The missiles were launched from the Tongchang-ri region near the reclusive North's border with China, South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon told a briefing, but said it was too early to say what their relatively low altitude indicated.Joshua Pollack, editor of the U.S.-based Non-Proliferation Review, said it did not appear the North had launched an ICBM."It sounds like a field exercise involving deployed missiles, probably ones we've seen before," Pollack said.U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also told Reuters there were no indications so far that North Korea had tested an ICBM.“We deplore the continued violation of Security Council resolutions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the most recent launches of ballistic missiles. The DPRK leadership should refrain from further provocations and return to full compliance with its international obligations,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Monday.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that China, which is holding its annual meeting of the National People's Congress, had noted North Korea's action.
"All sides should exercise restraint and not do anything to irritate each other to worsen regional tensions," Geng said, referring to both the missile launches and U.S.-South Korean military exercises.JOINT DRILLS
North Korea had threatened to take "strong retaliatory measures" after South Korea and the United States began annual joint military drills on Wednesday that test their defensive readiness against possible aggression from the North.North Korea criticises the drills and has previously conducted missile launches to coincide with them.Last year, North Korea fired a long-range rocket from Tongchang-ri that put an object into orbit. The United Nations condemned that launch for violating resolutions banning the use of ballistic missile technology.
North Korea test-fired a new type of missile into the sea last month and has said it would continue to launch new strategic weapons.Last month's test was the first since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to rein in North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump's national security deputies have reviewed options to counter the missile threat, the New York Times reported, including missile strikes on launch sites and the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to the South, the Times said.Those options would soon be presented to Trump and national security aides, it said, quoting U.S. administration officials.The United States withdrew nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 before the rival Koreas signed a declaration on denuclearisation of the peninsula. North Korea walked away from the agreement, citing the threat of invasion by the United States."The claim that we should redeploy nuclear weapons here, 20 years after they were withdrawn, is total nonsense," said Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party."I am formally asking the United States not to bring this issue up for consideration," Woo told a party meeting. North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test last September, following what the United States said was an "unprecedented" level of activity in its banned nuclear and missile programmes.State media said after that test Pyongyang had used a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a ballistic missile.The United States has about 28,500 troops and equipment stationed in the South, and plans to roll out the THAAD system there by the end of the year.Japan plans to reinforce its ballistic missile defences and is considering buying either THAAD or building a ground-based version of the Aegis system deployed on ships in the Sea of Japan. (Additional reporting by Christine Kim and James Pearson in Seoul, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Phil Stewart in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and James Dalgleish)
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Published Date: Mar 07, 2017 02:13 AM | Updated Date: Mar 07, 2017 02:13 AM