North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences.”
US and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.
The test came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group arrived in waters near the Korean peninsula, where it began exercises with the South Korean navy on Saturday, about 12 hours after the failed launch, a South Korean navy official said.
Tillerson, in a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea on Friday, repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options were on the table if Pyongyang persisted with its nuclear and missile development.
“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland,” Tillerson said.
“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”
US President Donald Trump said the launch was an affront to China, the North’s sole main ally.
“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” Trump said in a post on Twitter after the launch.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the UN meeting it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.
“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang said.
In a commentary on Saturday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said both North Korea and the United States needed to tread cautiously.
“If both sides fail to make such necessary concessions, then not only will the two countries, but the whole region and the whole world end up paying a heavy price for a possible confrontation.”
Trump, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for “trying very hard” on North Korea but warned a “major, major conflict” was possible.
The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.
Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks over fears the North may conduct a long-range missile test, or its sixth nuclear test, around the time of the April 15 anniversary of its state founder’s birth.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the test as a grave threat to the international order.
“I urged Russia to play a constructive role in dealing with North Korea,” Abe told reporters in London. “Japan is watching how China will act in regard to North Korea.”
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the North Koreans had probably tested a medium-range missile known as a KN-17 and it appeared to have broken up within minutes of taking off.