On January 2, 2017, with a threat from North Korea that it might soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile, President-electcDonald Trump tweeted that “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”
The tweet came to be seen as a “red line” for North Korea and set up a potential test of Trump’s credibility.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un bided his time and decided to send America a birthday present for our Fourth of July. North Korea Says It Has Successfully Tested ICBM. Red line crossed. Your move, Twitter troll:
North Korea said on Tuesday that it had successfully conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, claiming a milestone in its efforts to build nuclear weapons capable of hitting the mainland United States.
The announcement came hours after a launch that the United States military said sent the missile aloft for 37 minutes. That duration, analysts said, suggested a significant improvement in the range of the North’s missiles, and it might allow one to travel as far as 4,000 miles and hit Alaska.
In initial statements, the United States Pacific Command and the State Department described the weapon as an intermediate-range missile rather than an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The missile took off from the Banghyon airfield in the northwestern town of Kusong and flew 578 miles before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan, the South Korean military said in a statement.
The Japanese government said the missile landed in its so-called exclusive economic zone off its western coast. It was the first missile test by the North since it launched land-to-sea cruise missiles off its east coast on June 8. Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is prohibited from developing or testing ballistic missiles.
While the North is believed to have made significant progress in its weapons programs, experts believe it still has a long way to go in miniaturizing nuclear warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The missile test adds a volatile new element to the Trump administration’s efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which have included naval drills off the Korean Peninsula and pressure on China, Pyongyang’s longtime ally. In a blunt phone call Sunday, President Trump warned President Xi Jinping of China that the United States was prepared to act alone against North Korea.
If the missile took 37 minutes to fly 578 miles, that would mean that it had a highly lofted trajectory, probably reaching an altitude of more than 1,700 miles, said David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Such a missile would have a maximum range of roughly 4,160 miles, or 6,700 kilometers, on a standard trajectory, he said. North Korea said the missile, which it identified as the Hwasong-14, flew for 39 minutes.
“That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska,” Mr. Wright wrote in a blog post.
The missile looked like the longest-range missile that North Korea had ever tested, and its long flight time was “more consistent with an ICBM that can target Alaska and perhaps Hawaii,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
“It’s a very big deal — it looks like North Korea tested an ICBM,” he said by email. “Even if this is a 7,000-km-range missile, a 10,000-km-range missile that can hit New York isn’t far off.”
But analysts also cautioned that although they have been impressed by the rapid and steady progress in the North’s missile programs, the long flight time itself did not suggest that North Korea had mastered the complex technologies needed to build a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM, such as the know-how to separate the nuclear warhead and guide it to its target.
By lofting some of its recent missiles to higher altitudes and letting them crash down toward the Earth at greater speeds, North Korea has claimed that it tested its “re-entry” technology, which can protect a nuclear warhead from intense heat and vibrations as it crashes through the Earth’s atmosphere. But it is still unclear whether the North has successfully cleared that technological hurdle, missile experts said.
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North Korea called the test “a momentous event in the history of the country” and said it had brought “great joy” to North Koreans.
Before the announcement, President Trump had noted the missile launch on Twitter, suggesting that it was time for China to act decisively against the North and “end this nonsense once and for all.” On Tuesday, Chinese officials criticized the missile test, saying it violated United Nations rules.
But at the same time, the Chinese government offered no signs that it was preparing to take more drastic action against the North, urging a return to diplomatic talks instead.
“I have to reiterate that the current situation in the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a regular news conference in Beijing. “We hope all sides concerned can remain calm and restrained so that tensions can be eased as soon as possible.”
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[A]nalysts said the launch would put Mr. Trump’s administration in a precarious position, given that it had indicated that such a missile, capable of reaching parts of the United States, was a critical threshold. In January, Mr. Trump declared on Twitter “it won’t happen!”; the message set off a cascade of speculation on what exactly he meant.
“This leaves the president in a familiar bind on North Korea as he prepares to leave for a Group of 20 meeting this week in Germany, where he will meet Mr. Xi as well as the leaders of Japan and South Korea, nations Mr. Trump has also turned to in navigating his approach to the North.” Trump Warns China He Is Willing to Pressure North Korea on His Own:
Without the full weight of China, pressure tactics are unlikely to force North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to change course. Yet diplomatic engagement — which Mr. Xi continues to push, according to officials — is not a step that Mr. Trump is ready to consider, after the death last month of an American college student, Otto F. Warmbier, who was held captive in Pyongyang for 17 months, then freed in a coma.
A go-it-alone approach by Mr. Trump would also further antagonize China, since it would require blacklisting multiple Chinese banks and companies that do business with the North. The United States began doing so on a modest scale last week by designating four Chinese entities and individuals.
The precarious state of United States-China relations was captured by the way the two sides characterized the call. The White House said only that Mr. Trump had raised the “growing threat” of North Korea’s weapons programs with Mr. Xi. The Chinese, in a more detailed statement, said the relationship was being “affected by some negative factors.”
The latest of these — and perhaps the most grating to the Chinese — was a naval maneuver in which an American guided-missile destroyer sailed near disputed territory claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea. The movement by the warship, the Stethem, off Triton Island in the Paracel archipelago prompted a furious response from China’s government, which called it a “serious political and military provocation.”
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The American destroyer’s cruise past Triton appeared to be especially offensive to China. It was only the second time since Mr. Trump took office in January that an American warship had ignored China’s claims in the South China Sea. On May 24, another guided-missile destroyer, the Dewey, traversed Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.
“The Chinese side strongly urges the U.S. side to immediately stop such kind of provocative operations that violate China’s sovereignty and threaten China’s security,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said on Sunday. “The Chinese side will continue to take all necessary means to defend national sovereignty and security.”
Washington and Beijing confirmed that Mr. Trump requested the call on Sunday. But American officials said their Chinese counterparts signaled that they were eager to clear the air after a bumpy week.
Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said it was “a little bit odd” that Mr. Xi had agreed to the call. Still, he said, the gesture indicated that China was seeking to maintain “stability and some momentum” with Mr. Trump and perhaps deter him from taking more extreme measures, such as military action.
“The actions the administration has taken have upset the Chinese, no doubt about it,” Professor Cheng said. “The conversations demonstrate that China is still willing to talk with Trump and work with the U.S. government to deal with North Korea’s nuclear issues.”
China’s resistance has led Mr. Trump to turn to other nations, notably Japan and South Korea, for help in resolving the crisis.
We have an impulsive man-child for president who cannot control his inner demons. North Korea just crossed his tweeted red line. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What could possibly go wrong?
UPDATE: The U.S. government confirmed Tuesday night that North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, Experts: North Korea’s missile was a ‘real ICBM’, crossing a critical threshold and underscoring President Trump’s failure to change the trajectory of dictator Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program over the past six months. Missile test underscores the failure of Trump’s naive approach to North Korea.