TOKYO — A North Korean missile fired Wednesday morning exploded within seconds of launch, the South Korean and U.S. militaries said, a reassuring sign for those worried about the speed at which North Korea’s weapons program has been progressing.
The launch attempt comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region, with the United States and South Korea conducting joint military exercises aimed at countering the North Korean threat and the Trump administration clearly signaling it is prepared to use force to stop Kim Jong Un’s regime.
The missile was launched from North Korea’s east coast about 7 a.m. local time Wednesday.
“North Korea fired one missile from an area near the Wonsan Air Base this morning but it’s presumed to have failed,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Command said the missile failed “within seconds of launch.”
It was not clear what kind of missile North Korea had fired. Both the South Korean and U.S. militaries were analyzing the data.
Kim has made clear that he wants the capability to strike the U.S. mainland. In his New Year’s address, he said North Korea had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile.”
In February, North Korea launched its first missile since Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, firing a medium-range missile that appeared to show significant technological advances.
This month, North Korea launched four missiles, three of which landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Although the missiles weren’t new, the tactic was, analysts said. The simultaneous firings appeared to be designed to outsmart the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense antimissile battery that the United States is deploying in South Korea, which would have difficulty shooting down four targets at once.
Over the weekend, Kim supervised a rocket engine test of “historic significance,” according to state media. The North Korean leader declared “that the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries,” the report said, declaring Saturday as the “March 18 revolution” because of the “great leaping forward” in the country’s rocket industry.
The test coincided with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to neighboring China, where he met with President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Tillerson said in Seoul the previous day that “all options,” including military ones, were on the table to stop North Korea from developing the ability to attack the United States.
Wang urged him to remain “coolheaded” about North Korea and not to abandon dialogue.
But from Washington, Trump made clear that he expected China to use its leverage over North Korea. “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years,” he said on Twitter. “China has done little to help!”