18 April, 2017
Vice President Mike Pence will arrive in Seoul Sunday, flying into a geopolitical maelstrom amid a possible North Korean nuclear test and harsh USA warnings about a military response.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - A North Korean medium-range missile exploded seconds after it was launched on Sunday, U.S. officials said, a high-profile failure that came hours before the U.S. vice president arrived in South Korea, and as an American aircraft supercarrier approaches the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
North Korea has a history of marking significant dates with a show of military force, and Pence's arrival will come a day after the country celebrates its most important holiday on Saturday, the 105th birth anniversary of the country's late founder, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of its current leader. "North Korea responded by showing off the most new missile hardware we've ever seen in a parade before", said Melissa Hanham, senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.
A North Korean missile exploded during launch Sunday from the country's east coast, USA and South Korean officials said, a high-profile failure that comes as a powerful US aircraft carrier approaches the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
The US Pacific Command said it tracked a missile launch on Sunday night and said the missile blew up nearly immediately. That led North Korea to issue routine threats of attacks on its rivals if they showed signs of aggression.
"Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? He continues to develop this program, he continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan", the adviser said.
"You know we can't talk about secret intelligence and things that might have been done, covert operations that might have happened", she said.
NBC News early Friday reported the United States is ready for a strike, having positioned two destroyers capable of shooting Tomahawk cruise missiles, one just 480 kilometers from the North's nuclear test site, as well as bombers in Guam, citing multiple senior intelligence officials. That was the site of a ballistic missile test earlier this month in which the projectile fell into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
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More directly on North Korea, the president returned to a theme of placing much onus on China for reining in the North. The administration's immediate emphasis, the officials said, will be on increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of Beijing.
Aside from improving the technology, North Korean missile and nuclear tests are seen by outside analysts partly as efforts to bolster the domestic image of leader Kim Jong Un and apply political pressure on Seoul and Washington.
The vice president earlier visited a military installation near the DMZ, Camp Bonifas, for a briefing with military leaders at the joint U.S. Trump tweeted on Sunday.
"The alliance between South Korea and the United States is ironclad", Pence said.
Into this tense environment, Pence made his first trip to the region since taking office in January. "Your willingness to step forward, to serve, to stand firm without fear, inspires the nation and inspires the world". That eased the risk of imminent retaliation from Trump, who had sent warships to the region.
But he will no doubt address worries in Washington that any new government may slow-walk the deployment of THAAD - a system created to shoot down missiles from North Korea or elsewhere.
The North regularly launches short-range missiles, but is also developing mid-range and long-range missiles meant to target US troops in Asia and, eventually, the USA mainland.
The KN-11 is North Korea's first large solid-fuel missile and is a relatively new addition to North Korea's ballistic missile fleet. Recent satellite imagery suggests the country could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.