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N. Korea says missile test shows progress in nuclear weapons program

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 13, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — While the United States and its allies mulled a response to North Korea’s latest missile test, leader Kim Jong Un called it a success that shows his country is making steady progress in its nuclear weapons program.

The North launched an intermediate-range, road-mobile missile on Sunday in what was widely seen as the first test of President Donald Trump’s policy toward the defiant communist state.

The United Nations Security Council was expected to hold an urgent meeting requested by Washington, Japan and South Korea on Monday to discuss the launch, which was the North’s first in four months.

North Korea’s state-run news agency said Monday that Kim was on site to guide the launch of what it called a new strategic inter-mediate-ballistic missile that could be fitted with a nuclear warhead.

The leader “expressed great satisfaction over the possession of another powerful nuclear attack means which adds to the tremen-dous might of the country,” said the Korean Central News Agency.

“Now our rocket industry has radically turned into high thrust solid fuel-powered engine from liquid fuel rocket engine and rap-idly developed into a development-and-creation-oriented industry, not just copying samples,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

The missile was fired at a high arc to avoid hitting neighboring Japan and traveled about 310 miles before splashing into the sea off the peninsula’s east coast, U.S. and South Korean military officials said.

KCNA said it was a surface-to-surface missile called Pukguksong-2, which had an extended firing range based on a successful test-firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile in August. Pho-tos published in official media showed the fiery missile taking off from a tank while Kim looked on with binoculars.

Trump, meanwhile, faced calls to offer a tough response to the missile test as critics noted the longstanding U.S. policy known as strategic patience has so far failed to curb the North’s ambi-tions.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner urged the Trump administration to “immediately pursue a series of tough measures, to include addi-tional sanctions designations and show-of-force military exercis-es with our allies in the region, to send a message to [Kim] that we remain committed to deterring the North Korean threat.”

Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific affairs, also called for speeding up the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD in South Korea, despite opposition from China, according to a statement.

Tensions have been high since North Korea conducted two under-ground nuclear tests and tried to test-fire some two dozen bal-listic missiles last year. The U.N. Security Council responded by tightening economic sanctions to punish the country for defying resolutions banning its use of ballistic-missile technology.

Still, North Korea’s leader said in his New Year’s address that the country was in the “final stages” of preparations to test an ICBM.

Trump responded by tweeting, “It won’t happen!”

While Sunday’s test was not an ICBM, which would have the reach to target the U.S. mainland, many experts agreed Pyongyang is making clear progress.

Moon Keun-sik of the Korea Defense and Security Forum said the timing was crucial because the launch occurred while Trump was playing golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He said the launch appeared aimed at sending a message that North Korea won’t be bowed by talk of strengthened alliances or sanc-tions.

“They seem to have been sending a salute during the summit talks between Washington and Tokyo,” he added.

Trump has given few specifics on his plans for dealing with North Korea other than to say that he thinks China should do more to rein in its communist protégé.

He rattled nerves in South Korea and Japan when he made comments on the campaign trail suggesting the two allies should pay more for their defense.

But he has signaled loyalty to the alliances and a hard line to-ward Pyongyang since taking office.

Following the missile test, Trump appeared with Abe at a press conference in Florida but made only a brief statement promising to stand behind Japan 100 percent.

The president’s policy adviser, Stephen Miller, said that was meant as a “powerful and unmistakable” message to North Korea.

“We are going to reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we have seen in recent years from the North Korean regime,” he said in an interview Sunday with Fox News.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

gamel.kim@stripes.com

Twitter: @kimgamel

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown in photos purportedly observing the launch of an intermediate-range missile over the weekend. The ruling Workers' Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, did not provide details about the photos, but they were published with a front-page article describing the missile test as a success.
SCREENSHOT FROM RODONG SINMUN

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