Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed Tuesday that the U.S. would “never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea” while U.S. and South Korean forces held joint ballistic missile drills after the Communist nation successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Tillerson also called for all nations to fully implement United Nations sanctions against North Korea, saying “global action is required to stop a global threat.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it had conducted a “precision firing” demonstration off the coast of the Korean Peninsula in response to what it called North Korea’s “destabilizing and unlawful actions.”
Pentagon spokesman Dana White also condemned the missile test and reiterated that, “we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea.”
President Trump did not directly mention North Korea or the missile launch during his Independence Day remarks at a picnic for military families on the South Lawn of the White House. However, he did note that “we do have challenges, but we will handle those challenges. Believe me.”
U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials say the North Korean missile flew for about 40 minutes and reached an altitude of 1,500 miles, which would be longer and higher than any similar North Korean test previously reported. It also covered a distance of about 580 miles.
A veteran North Korea watcher told Fox News Tuesday that the missile was fired from a mobile launcher, making such tests more difficult for the U.S. to track and disrupt.
“This is the big story we have all been waiting for,” Professor Bruce Bechtol of Angelo State University in Texas wrote in an email. “All of the paradigms have changed. It is now time to see what action the USA will take.”
Bechtol added that the mobile launcher “nearly destroys our warning time and also means that the North Koreans have a real shot at launching this system at us without us being able to destroy it on the ground.”
Shortly after news of the test broke Monday night, Trump tweeted, “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
“This guy” presumably refers to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. China is North Korea’s economic lifeline and only major ally, and the Trump administration is pushing Beijing to do more to push the North toward disarmament.
The U.N. Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss its response to the launch. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tweeted her frustration at spending her Independence Day holiday in high-level meetings with the hashtag, “#ThanksNorthKorea.”
The missile test could invite a new round of international sanctions, but North Korea is already one of the most sanctioned countries on Earth. U.N. Security Council resolutions ban it from engaging in any ballistic activities. Since late 2012, North Korea has placed two satellites into orbit with long-range rockets, each time triggering new U.N. sanctions and worldwide condemnation.
Earlier Tuesday, the Chinese and Russian foreign ministries proposed that North Korea declare a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests while the United States and South Korea refrain from large-scale joint military exercises. North Korea views the exercises as preparation for an invasion and has repeatedly demanded their cancellation. It says it needs nuclear weapons and powerful missiles to cope with what it calls rising U.S. military threats.
Moscow and Beijing issued the proposal in a joint statement after talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They urged other nations to create a “peaceful atmosphere of mutual trust” to encourage talks between the two sides on commitments not to use force and to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
Regional disarmament talks on North Korea’s nuclear program have been deadlocked since 2009, when the North pulled out of the negotiations to protest international condemnation over a long-range rocket launch.
North Korea has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles and is thought to have a small arsenal of atomic bombs, but is still trying to perfect its longer-range missiles. Some outside civilian experts believe the North has the technology to mount warheads on shorter-range Rodong and Scud missiles that can strike South Korea and Japan, two key U.S. allies where about 80,000 American troops are stationed. But it’s unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile.