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N. Korea Missile Test Fails before Pence Visit

North Korea test-fired a missile early Sunday, hours before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Seoul for talks on curbing Pyongyang's weapons programs, but U.S. officials said it exploded seconds after launch.

The latest launch came a day after Pyongyang held a defiant massive military parade as fears grew it may soon conduct another nuclear weapons test.

"The missile blew up almost immediately," the U.S. Defense Department said of the early-morning launch from near Sinpo on the North's east coast.

The type of missile was not clear.

On Saturday North Korea displayed nearly 60 missiles -- including what is suspected to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile -- at a parade to mark the 105th birthday of its founder Kim Il-Sung.

The North has a habit of firing off missiles to mark major political anniversaries, or as gestures of defiance to top U.S. officials visiting the region.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the latest test but had "no further comment."

"It is likely that this launch is a test for a new type of missile or an upgrade so the possibility is high for further provocation in the near future," said Kim Dong-Yub, of Kyungnam University's Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

South Korea's foreign ministry said that by conducting the latest test just a day after showcasing a series of missiles, "North Korea has threatened the whole world."

- Tough stance -

Last August a submarine-launched ballistic missile tested from Sinpo flew 500 kilometers (300 miles) towards Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un hailed that test as the "greatest success" and said it brought the US mainland within range of a mobile delivery system.

Pyongyang's rogue atomic ambitions have come into sharp focus in recent weeks, with Trump vowing a tough stance against the North and threatening unilateral action if China failed to help curb its neighbor's nuclear program.

Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.

With speculation mounting that the North is preparing to conduct a sixth nuclear test, he sent an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula.

But a White House foreign policy adviser traveling with Pence played down Sunday's test, saying the missile -- probably a medium-range one -- failed after about four to five seconds.

While Washington had a "wide array of tools" at the president's disposal, "for this particular case, if they (North Korea) took the time and energy to launch a missile that failed, we don't need to expend any resources against that."

The North has reiterated its constant refrain that it is ready for war with the U.S., and its army vowed Friday a "merciless" response to any U.S. provocation.

Recent satellite images suggest its main nuclear site is "primed and ready," according to specialist U.S. website 38North.

China, the North's sole major ally, and Russia have both urged restraint, with Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi warning that "conflict could break out at any moment."

China's most senior diplomat Yang Jiechi and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exchanged views on the situation on the Korean peninsula by phone on Sunday, Beijing's official Xinhua news agency said.

The White House adviser said Trump and China's President Xi Jinping had discussed a number of steps at their summit this month and "we've seen the Chinese already take some initial steps towards that" -- citing the turning back of coal ships from North Korea.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions against the North since 2006, when it staged the first of its five nuclear tests. All have failed to halt its drive for what it insists are defensive weapons.

The North has yet to formally announce it has an operational ICBM, but experts and intelligence officials have warned it could be less than two years away from achieving an inter-continental strike capability.

Pence, who visited the National Cemetery in Seoul Sunday to lay a wreath, will go on to Japan, Indonesia and Australia.

On Monday he is scheduled to meet Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn for talks expected to focus on the North's weapons programs and a controversial U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD.

Washington and Seoul are deploying the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in the South to counter the North's missile threats, despite angry opposition from China.

Source: Agence France Presse


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