Trump calls for tougher North Korea sanctions after missile ‘so close to Russian soil’

The missile flew more than 700 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) surrounded by the Korean peninsula, Japan and the Russian far east.

People watch a television news programme, showing a graphic of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul. North Korea fired a ballistic missile on May 14 in an apparent bid to test the South’s new liberal president and the US which have both signalled an interest in negotiations to ease months of tensions. AFP
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Seoul // The US president Donald Trump called for tougher sanctions against North Korea after it launched a ballistic missile Sunday in an apparent attempt to test the South’s new liberal president and the United States.

“Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,” the White House said.

The missile flew more than 700 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan.

It landed “so close to Russian soil ... the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased”, the White House said.

North Korea “has been a flagrant menace for far too long”, it said.

Russia’s defence ministry later said the missile landed about 500km from its border and posed no threat.

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, H R McMaster, phoned his counterparts in Japan and South Korea to discuss the situation.

China, which has been under growing US pressure to help rein in the nuclear-armed North, called for restraint.

“All relevant parties should exercise restraint and refrain from further aggravating tensions in the region,” the foreign ministry said.

The test drew widespread condemnation including from the European Union and UAE, which described it as a threat to international security and stability. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called upon the international community to take all necessary measures to address such “flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions”.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe criticised the latest missile launch as “totally unacceptable” and a “grave threat” to Tokyo.

Several sets of UN and US sanctions against North Korea have done little to deter it from pursuing its nuclear and missile ambitions.

Before the missile test, the US Treasury said it was considering “every tool in our arsenal” to cut off sources of international financing for illegal activities in the North.

Mr Trump has threatened military action but recently appeared to have softened his stance, saying he would be “honoured” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right conditions.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, has also been conciliatory. But he slammed the missile test as a “reckless provocation” after an emergency meeting with national security advisers.

Unlike his conservative predecessors, Mr Moon advocates reconciliation with Pyongyang but warned on Sunday that dialogue would be possible “only if the North changes its attitude”.

He said in his inauguration speech that he was willing to visit Pyongyang “in the right circumstances” to ease tensions.

The North itself would be willing to hold talks with the US if the conditions are right, according a senior official at the North’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

“The North is apparently trying to test Moon and see how his North Korea policy as well as policy coordination between the South and the US will take shape,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

The launch was also aimed at “maximising the North’s political leverage” ahead of possible negotiations with the US, as Pyongyang and Washington both recently signalled they were open to talks, he added.

“The North wants to show before negotiations that their precious, powerful weapon is not something they would give up so easily,” he said.

The missile test is likely to embarrass Beijing, which was hosting an international summit Sunday to promote its ambitious global trade infrastructure project.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed the Korean situation on the sidelines of the meeting and “both parties expressed their concern over the escalation of tensions”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

But China, the isolated North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline, has been reluctant to upset the status quo in Pyongyang and risk an influx of refugees from its neighbour.

The latest test was the North’s first launch since a US missile defence system deployed in the South became operational on May 2. It follows a failed April 29 ballistic missile test by Pyongyang.

The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the start of last year in its quest to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.

The US Pacific Command said Sunday’s launch did not appear to be an ICBM.

The missile was fired from a site near the north-western city of Kusong. A previous test at the same site in February sent a missile 500km, far less than Sunday’s launch.

* Agence France-Presse