UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. Security Council met in emergency session Friday after North Korea conducted its longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile, to talk about what to do now that Kim Jong Un has ignored its latest round of sanctions.
The intermediate-range weapon, launched early Friday from Sunan, the location of Pyongyang’s international airport, hurtled over U.S. ally Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean. It signaled both defiance of North Korea’s rivals and a big technological advance.
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho told reporters as he headed into the closed-door council meeting that he was certain all 15 members “will be condemning this outrageous act.”
“It is, of course, a grave threat to our own security but … it is a real threat to the peace and security of the world as a whole,” he said.
Bessho called on all countries to implement sanctions against North Korea, including measures adopted four days ago in response to Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, which it said was a hydrogen bomb. The United States said those sanctions, combined with previous sanctions would ban over 90 percent of North Korea’s exports reported in 2016.
The British, French and Swedish ambassadors echoed Bessho’s condemnation and demand that all sanctions be implemented.
Calling the latest launch a “terrible, egregious, illegal, provocative reckless act,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said. And in a clear reference to China, he said all countries, especially North Korea’s largest trading partners and closest links, must “demonstrate that they are doing everything in their power to implement the sanctions of the Security Council and to encourage the North Korean regime to change course.”
By cutting off Pyongyang’s sources of foreign currency, he said, its ability to run its nuclear and ballistic missile programs is constrained.
France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the country is ready to work on tougher U.N. and EU measures “to convince the regime in Pyongyang that there is no interest in an escalation, and to bring it to the negotiating table.” It said North Korea will also be discussed during next week’s annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly.
Since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” in August, the North has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, threatened to send missiles into the waters around the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam and launched two missiles of increasing range over Japan. July saw the country’s first tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could strike deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.
The growing frequency, power and confidence displayed by these tests seem to confirm what governments and outside experts have long feared: North Korea is closer than ever to its goal of building a military arsenal that can viably target U.S. troops both in Asia and in the U.S. homeland.
This, in turn, is meant to allow North Korea greater military freedom in the region by raising doubts in Seoul and Tokyo that Washington would risk the annihilation of a U.S. city to protect its Asian allies.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the missile launch as a serious violation of Security Council resolutions, coming less than two weeks after the North’s sixth nuclear test, which also violated a U.N. ban.
On Monday the council unanimously approved its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea over its nuclear test, which Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry denounced the sanctions and said the North would “redouble its efforts to increase its strength to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and right to existence.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the latest missile traveled about 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) and reached a maximum height of 770 kilometers (478 miles). Guam, which is the home of important U.S. military assets, is 3,400 kilometers (2,112 miles) away from North Korea.
Despite its impressive range, the missile probably still is not accurate enough to destroy Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, said David Wright, a U.S. missile expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Friday, without mentioning the latest missile test, that its weapons tests demonstrate that it can “turn the American empire into a sea in flames through sudden surprise attack from any region and area,”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who initially pushed for talks with North Korea, said its tests currently make dialogue “impossible.”
“The sanctions and pressure by the international community will only tighten so that North Korea has no choice but to take the path for genuine dialogue” for nuclear disarmament, Moon said. “If North Korea provokes us or our allies, we have the strength to smash the attempt at an early stage and inflict a level of damage it would be impossible to recover from.”
North Korea has repeatedly vowed to continue its weapons tests amid what it calls U.S. hostility – by which it means the presence of nearly 80,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan and South Korea.
Robust international diplomacy on the issue has been stalled for years, and there’s so far little sign that senior officials from North Korea and the U.S. might sit down to discuss ways to slow the North’s determined march toward inclusion among the world’s nuclear weapons powers.
Friday’s test, which Seoul said was the 19th launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea this year, triggered sirens and warning messages in northern Japan but caused no apparent damage to aircraft or ships. It was the second missile fired from Sunan over Japan in less than a month.
South Korea detected North Korean launch preparations Thursday, and President Moon ordered a live-fire ballistic missile drill if the launch happened. This allowed Seoul to fire its missiles only six minutes after the North’s launch Friday. One of the two missiles hit a sea target about 250 kilometers (155 miles) away, which was approximately the distance to Pyongyang’s Sunan, but the other failed in flight shortly after launch, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Kim reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Foster Klug in Seoul and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.