WASHINGTON — Only hours after the Trump administration warned it would take military action to coerce North Korea to disband its nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile.
The missile was fired from a site in South Pyeongan province north of Pyongyang in the early hours of Saturday morning local time, South Korea’s military chiefs of staff said.
The type of missile was not yet known. It was not clear how far the missile traveled, but a U.S. government source told Reuters the test failed.
The South Korean news service Yonhap first reported the news.
Earlier in the day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson marked a sharp escalation in the Trump administration’s effort to punish and isolate Pyongyang for advancing a nuclear weapons program, urging members of the United Nations to diplomatically and economically isolate the already-isolated nation.
“We must levy new sanctions on [North Korean] entities and individuals supporting its weapons and missile programs, and tighten those already in place,” he said.
Tillerson said the U.S. “would not hesitate” to impose sanctions on non-American companies helping the North and described China as having “unique” economic leverage.
“All options for responding to future provocations must remain on the table,” he explained at a U.N. Security Council meeting. “Diplomatic and financial leverage or power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary.”
While North Korea had dictated the terms of its dangerous course of action for years, Tillerson told the audience comprised of the foreign ministers of Japan, China, Britain and South Korea “it’s time for us to retake control of the situation.”
“The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real,” he said, “and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.”
Tillerson told the Security Council the era of “strategic patience” is over.
“For too long the international community has been reactive,” he said. “The more we bide our time, the sooner we will run out of it.”
Tillerson’s remarks before the U.N. Security Council comes just one day after Trump warned in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters that the U.S. may be headed toward “a major, major conflict” with North Korea if negotiation attempts did not work.
See Trump’s remarks:
North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador told the Associated Press Friday that U.S. efforts to rid the isolated nation from its nuclear programs with sanctions or by waging military threats are “a wild dream.”
“In a nutshell, DPRK have already declared not to attend any type of talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment, nuclear disbandment,” he said, using the acronym for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim argued that North Korea’s nuclear program a byproduct “of the United States hostile policy towards DPRK.”
The United States “is wholly to blame for pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war by staging the largest-ever joint aggression military drills against the DPRK for the past two months” and deploying “nuclear strategic assets” to South Korea, he said.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, similarly contended that North Korea isn’t the primary aggressor in the Korean Peninsula and accused the U.S. and South Korea of escalating tensions by staging the military drills.
Wang issued a “demand” that the U.S. stop conducting military drills and argued that a peaceful settlement is the “only right choice.”
“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” he continued. “Peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations represents the only right choice that is practical and viable.”
He offered to halt Pyongyang’s military program in return for a freeze on joint U.S.-South Korea military drills. The U.S. has rejected the freezing its military drills in the past, demanding that the nuclear program be halted first.
In February, China banned coal imports from North Korea to adhere to Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Coal is one of the country’s key exports.
China, North Korea’s main source of food and fuel aid, is reportedly also considering restricting oil shipments if Pyongyang continues to behave belligerently.
While China is putting pressure on the North to end its nuclear weapons program, it is wary of destabilizing a traditional ally whom it fought with in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Adm. Harry Harris, a top U.S. commander in the Pacific, warned on Wednesday that Hawaii is ill-prepared to defend itself in light of Pyongyang’s capability to launch a rocket and would potentially be overwhelmed in an onslaught unless it is equipped with more missile interceptors.
“I don’t share your confidence that North Korea is not going to attack either South Korea, or Japan, or the United States … once they have the capability,” Harris told the House Armed Services Committee.
Hawaii lawmakers are anxiously working to blueprint new emergency plans to prepare for a North Korea attack. The state last updated its emergency plans in the 1980s.
The House Hawaii House Public Safety Committee is restocking hundreds of Cold War-era fallout shelters with medical supplies, food and water.
The admiral’s comments came shortly before Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats held a closed-door briefing with the entire Senate on North Korea in the White House.
“Past efforts have failed to halt North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and nuclear and ballistic missile tests,” Tillerson, Mattis and Coats said in a joint statement. “With each provocation, North Korea jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to our allies and the U.S. homeland.”