Nkorea Fires another Ballistic Missile ‘Dashing Hopes for Peace’

North Korean scientists and technicians, who developed missile "Hwasong-12" cheer North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

North Korea test-fired on Sunday a medium-range missile, US and South Korean officials said, the latest ballistics test for a country ramping up its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The missile was launched Sunday at about 4:59 p.m. Seoul time from a site in the vicinity of Puckchang county, which is home to North Korea’s largest power plant. It flew eastward about 500 kilometers (310 miles), said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The US Pacific Command said it tracked the missile before it landed into the sea.

South Korea said the missile, the second in a week and the eighth this year, dashed the hopes of the South’s new liberal government for peace between the neighbors. It described the launch, as “reckless and irresponsible” while the US military stressed “ironclad commitment” to defend its allies in the region.

A South Korean military official said the missile appeared to be an upgraded, extended-range version of the North’s solid-fuel submarine-launched missile. The missile fired a week ago flew was liquid-fueled, and flew further.

North Korea has disregarded all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, saying the weapons are needed for legitimate self-defense.

The reclusive state has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland. On Saturday, it said it had developed the capability to strike the US mainland, although Western missile experts say the claim is exaggerated.

A White House official visiting Saudi Arabia with Trump appeared to play down Sunday’s firing.

“We are aware that North Korea launched an MRBM (medium-range ballistic missile). This system, last tested in February, has a shorter range than the missiles launched in North Korea’s three most recent tests,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The two missile tests in a week complicate plans by South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in to seek ways to reduce tension on the peninsula. Moon took office eleven days ago after winning an election on a platform of a more moderate approach to the North, with which the South is still technically at war since no peace treaty was signed at the end of their 1950-1953 conflict.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said the tests were “reckless and irresponsible actions throwing cold water over the hopes and desires of this new government and the international community for denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula”.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch and said it was “obviously” violating the UN resolution and the “repeated provocative acts by North Korea are totally unacceptable.” He called it a “challenge to the world” that tramples international efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile problems peacefully and vowed to bring up the issue as the “main agenda” of this week’s G-7 summit in Italy.

Saudi Arabia Shoots down Ballistic Missile Launched by Houthis towards Ar Rayn

Yemen

Jeddah, Aden, Taiz – Saudi Arabia said it shot down a ballistic missile, fired by Yemeni rebels, southern Saudi province of Ar Rayn, well to the west of Riyadh late Friday. The area is open desert and there were no casualties.

Air defense units “intercepted a ballistic missile that was launched by Houthi militias over an unpopulated area,” 180 kilometers from Riyadh, the Saudi-led coalition said in a statement.

Arab coalition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that the launch pad for the missile intercepted by Saudi Arabia was placed in a cave north of Yemen’s Saadah governorate.

The cave was targeted at midnight and became clear from the force of successive blasts that there was a missile and ammunition depot, the sources said.

In October 2016, the rebels launched one of their longest-range strikes against Saudi Arabia, firing a ballistic missile that was brought down near the holy Muslim city of Makkah, an attack condemned by Riyadh’s Gulf allies.

On the other hand, Yemeni national army and popular resistance forces have taken control over new strategic areas in Osailan front in Shabwa governorate southeastern Yeme \خعمn as violent fighting and artillery shelling continued on various fronts in al-Jawf governorate.

Brigade 19 has regained control over strategic Ould Shmeis Mountains following fierce battles fought against Houthi and Saleh militias in Osailan, field sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Spokesman for Brigade 19 in Osailan Ct. Mutlaq al-Maaroufi said that the army forces have repulsed a violent attack and a smuggling attempt by the militias towards different sites in Ould Shmeis front.

Notably, Ould Shmeis Mountains are considered among the most strategic areas that view the roads leading to some critical oil sites.

Maaroufi said that the national army’s advance coincided with intermittent confrontations in al-Khaidar fronts where the army has carried out an attack on one of Houthi militias’ sites, causing casualties and injuries among the insurgents in addition to capturing a number of militants.

North Korea Fires Missile, Defying New Leader in South

People watch a news report on North Korea firing a ballistic missile, at a railway station in Seoul

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, defying all pleas to rein in its weapons program, South Korean and US officials said.

The launch is a direct challenge to the new South Korean president elected four days ago, pledging to engage in dialogue. It also comes as US, Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.

The missile flew 700 km (430 miles) and reached an altitude of more than 2,000 km (1,245 miles), according to officials in South Korea and Japan, further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same region of Kusong, northwest of its capital, Pyongyang.

The US Pacific Command said it was assessing the type of missile but it was “not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile”. Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said the missile could be of a new type.

North Korea is widely believed to be developing an intercontinental missile tipped with a nuclear weapon that is capable of reaching the United States. US President Donald Trump has vowed not to let that happen.

Experts said Sunday’s test showed a considerably longer range than missiles North Korea had previously tested, meaning it had likely made improvements since its February test.

The reported altitude would indicate the missile was launched at a high trajectory.

David Wright, co-director of the UCS Global Security Program and a missile expert, said if the missile had been fired at a standard trajectory, it would have had a maximum range of about 4,500 km (2,800 miles).

Kim Dong-yub, Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said he estimated a standard trajectory firing would give it a range of 6,000 km (3,700 miles), meaning it would be capable of reaching Hawaii.

An intercontinental ballistic missile is considered to have a range of more than 6,000 km.

Japan said the missile flew for 30 minutes before dropping into the sea between North Korea’s east coast and Japan. The North has consistently test-fired missiles in that direction.

“If that report … is correct, then the launch may indeed represent a new missile with a long range,” said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, referring the estimated altitude of more than 2,000 km.

“It is definitely concerning,” McDowell said.

‘CLEAR VIOLATION’

In Washington, the White House said in a statement that North Korea has been “a flagrant menace for far too long,” and that South Korea and Japan have been watching the situation closely with the United States.

The statement says Washington maintains its “ironclad commitment” to stand with its allies in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea.

Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” with the test as the missile landed closer to Russia than to Japan, the statement added.

“With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” it said.

The latest “provocation” should serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against the North, it added.

The launch, at 5:27 a.m. Seoul time (2027 GMT Saturday), came two weeks after North Korea fired a missile that disintegrated minutes into flight, marking its fourth consecutive failure since March.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office on Wednesday, held his first National Security Council in response to the launch, which he called a “clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions, his office said.

“The president said while South Korea remains open to the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, it is only possible when the North shows a change in attitude,” Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s press secretary, told a briefing.

Moon won Tuesday’s election on a platform of a moderate approach to North Korea and has said he would be willing to go to Pyongyang under the right circumstances, arguing dialogue must be used in parallel with sanctions.

China, the North’s sole main ally which nevertheless objects to its weapons programs, called for restraint and for no one to exacerbate tension.

“Relevant Security Council resolutions have clear rules about North Korea using ballistic missile technology to carry out launches. China opposes relevant launch activities by North Korea that are contrary to Security Council resolutions,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “All relevant parties should exercise restraint.”

Delegations from the United States, South Korea and North Korea are in Beijing for a conference on a plan for a new Silk Road. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is also there.

The launch will also complicate Moon’s efforts to mend ties with China that have been strained by a decision by South Korea’s former government to deploy a US anti-missile defense system aimed at defending against North Korea.

Despite South Korean and US assurances that the deployment is defensive, China considers the system’s powerful radar a threat to its security.

Moon told Chinese President Xi Jinping last week that while he understood China’s concern, it would be difficult to resolve the issue unless North Korea stopped being provocative.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said North Korea’s missile launches were a “grave threat to our country and a clear violation of UN resolutions”.

The launch was “absolutely unacceptable” and Japan will respond resolutely, Abe told reporters.

North Korea on Feb. 12, launched the Pukguksong-2 missile, an upgraded, extended-range version of its submarine-launched ballistic missile, from the same site.

South Korean and US military officials said the February launch was a significant development as it successfully tested a solid-fuel engine from a mobile launcher. The missile flew about 500 km with an altitude of 550 km.

It represented a more significant threat because of the difficulty of tracking a mobile launcher and because of the ability to keep the missile fueled, unlike liquid fuel rockets.

The North attempted but failed to test-launch ballistic missiles four times in the past two months but has conducted various tests since the beginning of last year at an unprecedented pace. It also conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests since then.

U.S. Officials: Iran has Failed to Launch Ballistic Missile

London-Iran has failed to launch a ballistic missile with a range of 4,000 kilometers on the eve of the anniversary of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, high-ranking U.S. officials said.

Fox News quoted U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Iran attempted several days ago to launch a new type of ballistic missile using North Korean technology.

The test reportedly ended in failure when the missile exploded shortly after liftoff.

It would be at least the fourth time Iran has launched or attempted to launch a ballistic missile since the nuclear accord was signed on July 14, 2015 in clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231.

Iran is barred from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years under the resolution, which went into effect on July 20, 2015, days after the nuclear accord was signed.

The landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers does not include provisions preventing Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests.

Iran claims its ballistic missile tests are legitimate because they are not designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

According to Fox News, the most recent test was the first time Iran attempted to launch a version of the North Korean BM-25 Musudan ballistic missile, which is capable of putting several targets within reach.

The extent of North Korea’s involvement in the failed launch is not immediately clear, apart from North Korea sharing their technology, said the U.S. officials.

There was no immediate reaction from U.S. Central Command when asked for comment about the failed Iranian missile launch.

Yet in an interview with Fox News last week, the head of Central Command, responsible for military operations in the Middle East, said Iran continues to cause trouble in the region.

“Iran’s behavior hasn’t significantly changed as a result of the nuclear agreement,” said Gen. Joseph Votel. “They continue to pursue malign activities, and they continue to foment instability in areas where we need stability so I remain concerned about that continued behavior.”

Reuters reported last week that a confidential report by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called Iran’s ballistic missile program “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the nuclear deal.

Ban left it up to the Security Council to decide if Iran is in violation of Resolution 2231. Russia and China that are permanent members of the five-nation U.N. Security Council have expressed reservations in the past about punishing Iran about its missile tests.

Iranian media showcases Revolutionary Guard’s ballistic capabilities to “attack and destroy” Israel

In this November 2, 2006 file photo, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fire missiles during a war game in a desert near the holy city of Qom, southeast of Tehran. (Reuters/Fars News)
In this November 2, 2006 file photo, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fire missiles during a war game in a desert near the holy city of Qom, southeast of Tehran. (Reuters/Fars News)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranian websites close to the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have run special feature reports and interviews relating to Iran’s capability to “attack and destroy” Israel using ballistic missiles, the semi-state-run Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on Saturday.

A special feature report published by Fars on three missiles—named Israel-hitter—stated the missiles could be launched quickly from Iranian territory to reach targets in Israel, and explained the extensive infrastructure that has been built underground to house them.

A Tehran-based analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that publishing such “provocative” reports just two weeks before the November 24 deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement with Western powers on Iran’s nuclear program was an intentional move by more conservative elements in the Iranian leadership, and designed to derail President’s Hassan Rouhani’s reconciliatory foreign policy approach to close the nuclear dossier.

More conservative elements within the Iranian political establishment are under immense pressure to accept the framework of extending the current nuclear interim deal, which would see some sanctions on Iran remaining and the Islamic Republic observing ongoing restrictions on its uranium enrichment program.

One of the main reasons for the current stalemate in negotiations between Iran, the US and the EU over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program relate to grave concerns the Western powers have regarding Iran’s posing an “existential threat” to Israel should it develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

The rhetoric coming out of Tehran in recent years—most notably, the controversial comments made by Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, in which he reportedly said Israel “should be wiped from the face of the earth”—have caused concern in the international community and given the Israeli leadership grounds for pushing for an entire dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Both the West and Israel fear Iran’s ballistic and nuclear capabilities could be used in tandem to later produce such weapons. Iran’s new government has, however, distanced itself from Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric against Israel and reiterated many times that it is banned from producing nuclear bombs, not only due to its international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also due to religiously binding fatwas issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prohibiting the production of such weapons.

Observers say the publication of the information regarding the missiles, and the anti-Israel rhetoric, are moves designed to divert attention from Iran’s nuclear program, which currently is and in future proposed to fall under the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

These observers believe the information is designed to carry a message that any conceivable threat from Iran against Israel will come via conventional and ballistic missiles, and not necessarily as a result of the nuclear program, which is under the stringent scrutiny of the IAEA.

In a recent interview, Ali Abkar Velayati, special adviser on foreign policy to Khamenei, reiterated comments from Khaled Mishal, the leader of the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, that “Iran has been providing the Palestinian fighters with [everything from] bullets to missiles to [aid in their] fight with Israel.”

Velayati, who is generally known as a moderate conservative politician, said Iran’s current support for Shi’ite communities across the Arab world would not have been possible without the ballistic détente Iran had managed to secure.

Moshen Reza’i, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guard and current secretary of the Expediency Council, said recently it was Iran’s ballistic capabilities that had caused the P5+1—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—“to retreat from their previous policies against Iran” and begin making conciliations.

In another example of the conservative rhetoric being stepped up from Tehran, Yahya Rahim Safavi, another former Revolutionary Guard commander—and a current military adviser to Khamenei—described Khamenei in comments on Saturday as the “commander of Islamic lands,” with the aim of resisting and fighting the US and Israel.

North Korea Warns Foreigners to Leave South

Businessmen and representatives of South Korean workers of the Kaesong complex give a press conference in Yeouido, central Seoul, South Korea, 09 April 2013. EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA
Businessmen and representatives of South Korean workers of the Kaesong complex give a press conference in Yeouido, central Seoul, South Korea, 09 April 2013. EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA
Seoul, Reuters—North Korea intensified threats of an imminent conflict against the United States and the South on Tuesday, warning foreigners to evacuate South Korea to avoid being dragged into a “merciless, sacred, retaliatory war”.

The North’s latest antagonistic message belied an atmosphere free of anxiety in the South Korean capital, where the city center was bustling with traffic and offices operated normally.

Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the threat could be partly intended to bolster Kim Jong-un, 30, the third in his family to lead the reclusive country.

None of the embassies in Seoul appeared to have issued any directives to their nationals after the warning and airlines reported no changes in their schedules. Schools catering to foreign pupils worked without interruption.

The warning, read out on North Korea’s state television in a bulletin that interrupted normal programming, was the latest threat in weeks of high tension following UN sanctions slapped on Pyongyang for its latest nuclear arms test.

It followed the North’s suspension of activity at the Kaesong joint industrial park just inside North Korea, all but closing down the last remnant of cooperation between the neighbors. North Korean workers failed to turn up on Tuesday.

North Korea had said South Korea was trying to turn the Kaesong commplex into a “hotbed of war”.

The warning to foreigners, reported by the KCNA news agency said once war broke out “it will be an all-out war, a merciless, sacred, retaliatory war to be waged by (North Korea).

“It does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war,” the agency quoted the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying.

“The committee informs all foreign institutions and enterprises and foreigners, including tourists…that they are requested to take measures for shelter and evacuation in advance for their safety.”

Last week, North Korean authorities advised embassies in Pyongyang to consider pulling out in case of war, though none appeared to have taken any such action.

Speculation has grown that the North would launch some sort of provocative action this week—perhaps a missile launch or a fresh nuclear weapons test.

A government source in Seoul said a North Korean medium-range missile, reported to have been shunted to the east coast, had been tracked and was believed to be ready for launch.

“Technically, they can launch it as early as tomorrow,” the source said.
But a U.S. embassy official in Seoul said a directive issued last week saying there was no imminent threat to Americans in South Korea remained valid. “Our workers are in all our offices today,” he said. “We have not evacuated anyone.”

A Philippine foreign ministry spokesman quoted diplomats at its Seoul embassy as saying the situation “remains normal and calm”.

Stocks, which had fallen 4 percent over the past four days, edged higher on Tuesday despite the warning to foreigners. The won currency moved little, dipping slightly after the North Korean statement.

Employers at the Kaesong complex faced uncertainty as the 53,000-strong North Korean workforce stayed away. A spokesman for textile company Taekwang Industrial and at least two other firms said production had stopped.

About 475 South Korean workers and factory managers remain in Kaesong, which generates $2 billion in trade for the impoverished North. The Seoul government said 77 would return on Tuesday.

North Korean workers at the park have appeared increasingly agitated in recent days, refusing to talk to their colleagues.

Many Southerners connected with the park bedded down at budget hotels in a nearby South Korean town in the hope that an order would come from the North to re-open.

“I have been feeling anxious now and then. Now it’s really preposterous facing this,” said Shing Dong-chul, 55, a South Korean worker who transports wire made in Kaesong.

“North Korean workers didn’t talk a lot, but they appeared to have complaints about Kaesong being closed. They worried whether they would be working or not.”

Addressing a cabinet meeting, South Korean President Park Geun-hye described the suspension of Kaesong as “very disappointing” and said investors would now shun the North.

Few experts had expected Pyongyang to jeopardise Kaesong, which employs more than 50,000 North Koreans making household goods for 123 South Korean firms.

The zone is practically the last vestige of the “Sunshine Policy” of rapprochement between the two Koreas and a powerful symbol that the divided country could one day reunify.

South Korean companies are estimated to have invested around $500 million in the park since 2004.

World leaders have expressed alarm at the crisis and the prospect of a conflict involving a country claiming to be developing nuclear weapons.

China, the North’s sole diplomatic and financial ally, issued a new call for calm and restraint, though Beijing’s leaders have shown increasing impatience with Pyongyang.

“We ask all the relevant sides to bear in mind regional peace and stability and earnestly protect the legal rights and safety of citizens,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman, in a statement on the ministry’s website, said Moscow was in solidarity with all G8 industrialised countries “as regards the rejection of Pyongyang’s current provocative and bellicose line of conduct”.

The North is also angry at weeks of joint US-South Korean military exercises off the coast of the peninsula, with B-2 stealth bombers dispatched from their US bases.

But the United States announced the postponement last weekend of a long-planned missile launch, a move officials said was aimed at easing tensions on the peninsula.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Seoul this week and the North holds celebrations, and possibly military demonstrations, next Monday to mark the birth date of its founder, Kim Il-Sung—the current leader’s grandfather.

In Washington, US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter urged China to use its influence with the North and said Moscow wanted similar action from Beijing.

But Chinese criticism of North Korea is unlikely to mean tough new action against Pyongyang because China would see any collapse of its troublesome neighbour as a disaster.