North Korea test-fires missile

Kim Jong Un challenges new South Korean president

AP PHOTO
A TV news program shows a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday.

AP PHOTO A TV news program shows a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Sunday test-launched a ballistic missile that flew for half an hour and reached an unusually high altitude before landing in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean, Japanese and U.S. militaries said. The launch, which Tokyo said could be a new type of missile, is a direct challenge to the new South Korean president elected four days ago and comes as U.S., Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.

It wasn’t immediately clear what type of ballistic missile was launched, although the U.S. Pacific Command said that “the flight is not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile.” Japanese officials, however, said the missile flew for about 30 minutes, traveling about 800 kilometers (500 miles) and reaching an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) — a flight pattern that could indicate a new type of missile.

David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the flight indicates that the missile could have a range of 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 miles) if flown on a standard, instead of a lofted, trajectory; that would be considerably longer than Pyongyang’s current missiles.

The estimated range of the North’s Musudan missile is about 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles), Wright said, which is a little less than the distance between the U.S. Pacific island of Guam and North Korea. A North Korean missile would need to travel more than 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) to reach the U.S. West Coast.

Outside militaries will closely analyze what the North fired. While Pyongyang regularly tests shorter-range missiles, it is also working to master the technology needed to field nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. Past North Korean missiles have flown farther than Sunday’s test, landing closer to Japan, but this launch follows a series of high-profile failures.

Whatever the type of missile, the launch forces the new South Korean leader, Moon Jae-in, to put dealing with Pyongyang, at least for now, above the domestic economic agenda he’d made a priority during his early days in office.

Moon, who favors a softer approach to the North than his conservative predecessors, strongly condemned the launch during an emergency national security meeting, calling it a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a serious challenge to international peace and security, according to senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan.