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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea reportedly tried but failed Thursday to fire a midrange ballistic missile for the second time in two weeks.

It was an embarrassing setback to the regime’s efforts to show off its military might ahead of a ruling Workers’ Party Congress next week, the first in 36 years. South Korea’s president said earlier this week that the North was poised to stage a fifth nuclear test despite harsh U.N. sanctions.

The missile was believed to be the same model as one that failed on April 15, the birthday of North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, said a South Korean military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It was launched around 6:40 a.m. from the eastern port city of Wonsan, he said.

“We believe that it failed. It seems to have fallen a few seconds after being launched,” said the official, who stressed the South Korean and the U.S. militaries are still investigating.

The reported crash served as a reminder that the North still has many obstacles and problems to overcome in its stated goal of developing a weapon that can reach the U.S. mainland. But U.S. officials and experts say Pyongyang is making progress and learning from its mistakes.

That was evident last weekend when leader Kim Jong Un claimed his nation had successfully launched a missile from a submarine. South Korean officials said the missile flew only about 20 miles, but analysts noted it used solid fuel that would allow it to launch on mobile platforms with less preparation time than required for liquid fuel.

President Barack Obama warned North Korea that the United States was positioning its missile defense systems and setting up a “shield” to counter low-level threats from an “erratic” country.

“We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals,” Obama said in an interview with CBS that aired Tuesday, “but aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, the Republic of Korea.”

Tensions have been rising since the North staged a fourth nuclear test in early January, followed by a long-range rocket launch the next month. That prompted a fresh round of harsh U.N. sanctions, but Kim has persisted with a series of missile tests.

The North, which also has fired many missiles and artillery shells into the sea in recent months, says the U.S. is to blame for the tensions. Pyongyang is angry over annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that it considers a rehearsal for an invasion.

The South Korean official said it appeared that the failed missile was a Musudan model, which is believed to have a range that would put it within reach of Japan some U.S. military installations in the region.

Analysts believe Kim is positioning himself to consolidate his hold on power ahead of the Workers’ Party Congress, which is due to begin next Friday. North Korea also has long used brinkmanship to wring food aid and other concessions from the West.

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

gamel.kim@stripes.comTwitter: @kimgamel


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