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Trump vows to 'take care' of NKorea after latest test appears to put DC in range

North Korea has fired two missiles over the northern island of Hokkaido in the space of less than a month
STR (KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/File)
Pentagon says it was likely an intercontinental ballistic missile

North Korea test fired what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday, in a major challenge to US President Donald Trump after he slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and declared it a state sponsor of terrorism.

It was the nuclear-armed North's first ballistic test in more than two months and an initial assessment by the Pentagon said it was an ICBM that flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before splashing down within Japan's maritime Economic Exclusion Zone.

The test prompted a swift response from Trump who warned: "We will take care of it," while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described it a "violent" act that can "never be tolerated."

Japan, the United States and South Korea called for a special meeting of the UN Security Council, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stressed that diplomatic options for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue remained "viable and open".

KCNA VIA KNS/AFP

It was the North's third successful test of an ICBM which has the range to reach the mainland United States, although experts say Pyongyang has yet to master the re-entry technology required to bring a nuclear warhead back through the Earth's atmosphere.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile went higher than ever before and was a step toward North Korea building missiles that can "threaten everywhere in the world, basically."

“This is significantly longer than North Korea’s previous long-range tests, which flew on lofted trajectories for 37 minutes and 47 minutes,” David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying. “Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C.”

In September the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and staged an intermediate-range missile launch over Japan, before a lull in testing that had raised hopes that multiple sanctions on its nuclear weapons program were finally having an impact. 

Japan's prime minister said that the missile launch was a "violent act" that "can never be tolerated" and called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting.

"We will never yield to any provocative act. We will maximize our pressure," on Pyongyang, Shinzo Abe told reporters.

Japan had "completely tracked" the missile, Abe told reporters.

"We have made a strong complaint," he added.

The US last week raised pressure on Pyongyang by unveiling new sanctions targeting North Korean shipping.

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (AFP)

President Trump also declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, a spot on a US blacklist the country had shed nearly a decade ago.

Trump said that the terror designation and sanctions were part of a series of moves to reinforce his "maximum pressure campaign" against North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's regime.

But the North remained defiant, vowing to continue building up its nuclear force in the face of repeated US sanctions and threats.

It condemned the US terror listing as a "serious provocation" and warned that sanctions would never succeed.

It also slammed Washington for behaving like an "international judge on terrorism" and said the move was "clearly an absurdity and a mockery to world peace and security".

China, the North's sole ally, has pushed for a "dual track approach" to the crisis which would see the United States freeze its military drills in South Korea while North Korea would halt its weapons programs.

KIM Won-Jin (AFP)

Washington has rejected that approach.

In response to Wednesday's ICBM test, South Korea's military staged a "precision strike" missile exercise, the South's Yonhap news agency quoted military officials as saying.

In a statement, the Pentagon said the missile did not pose a danger to North America, any US territories or any ally nations.

"Our commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad," the statement read.

"We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation."

Drumming up support for a tough stance against North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions was the main focus of a marathon Asian tour undertaken by Trump earlier this month.

But the US administration has said it is still open to pursuing dialogue with Pyongyang and Trump has even said he would be willing, in the right circumstances, to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

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