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North Korea Launches Powerful New Rocket


A South Korean army soldier walks by a TV news program showing a file image of missiles being test-launched by North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 14, 2017.

North Korea on Monday claimed it had successfully launched a new kind of “medium long-range” rocket that can carry a “large, heavy nuclear warhead.”

Outside observers saw an important technological jump in Sunday’s test. They said the rocket flew higher and longer than any other missile tested by North Korea.

The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017.
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017.

The missile flew for half an hour on Sunday. It reached a very high altitude before landing in the Sea of Japan, close to Russia, according to Japanese and Russian officials.

The governments of South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and Russia condemned the missile test. The United Nations Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss this latest move from North Korea. The U.S., Japan and South Korea requested the meeting after the test on Sunday.

South Korea's new President Moon Jae-In speaks at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
South Korea's new President Moon Jae-In speaks at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

South Korea said Monday its new President, Moon Jae-in, is sending special envoys around the world as the country seeks to strengthen its global ties after this latest hostile missile test.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised more nuclear and missile tests. He warned that his country’s weapons could strike the U.S. mainland and territories in the Pacific.

Scientists: not yet an ICBM

The official North Korean news agency KCNA said it flew 787 kilometers and reached an altitude of 2,111 kilometers.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said more analysis is needed to verify the North’s claim on the rocket’s technology. North Korea has successfully launched long-range rockets into space twice before. But a South Korean spokesman said it is unlikely that North Korea has mastered re-entry technology.

This technology is necessary for an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, to strike a far-away target. The rocket may go far and high, but if it cannot re-enter the atmosphere, without breaking apart, the missile cannot hit its target.

Observers say the high trajectory was a sign it may be a new, two-part liquid fueled rocket.

“This is kind of a big deal. But it’s not an ICBM. That’s the good news,” Union of Concerned Scientists co-director David Wright told VOA.

If flown on a normal trajectory, the missile fired by North Korea Sunday morning would have a range of up to 4,500 kilometers, according to Wright.

Guam, an American territory with two large U.S. military bases, is 3,400 kilometers from North Korea. Until now, the island was believed to be outside the range of North Korea’s most powerful rockets.

KCNA quoted Kim as accusing the United States of "browbeating" countries that "have no nukes," and warning Washington not to misjudge the reality that its mainland is in the North's "sighting range for strike."

International reaction

Russia's President Vladimir Putin said North Korea's latest missile test was "counter-productive, harmful and dangerous." Speaking Monday in Beijing, Putin said, "We are categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear powers."

Putin also urged other world leaders to "stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to the problem."

China is North Korea’s major trading partner and its ally. China’s Foreign Ministry expressed opposition to Pyongyang's violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. But it called for restraint to avoid increasing hostilities in the area.

In a statement, the White House said the test should “serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Sunday it is time for many nations to "send a strong, unified message that this is unacceptable.”

She said the United States will continue to "tighten the screws" against – meaning put more pressure on -- North Korea.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be "honored" to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "under the right circumstances." But Haley said "having a missile test is not the way to sit down with the president, because he's absolutely not going to do it."

The United Nations first imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2006. The organization has since added tougher sanctions but the isolated nation still continues with its nuclear and missile testing program.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

And I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball adapted this story with information from VOA News, the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

altitude – n. the height of something (such as an airplane) above the level of the sea

trajectory – n. the curved path along which something (such as a rocket) moves through the air or through space

browbeat – v. to use threats or angry speech to make (someone) do or accept something

nuke – n. informal name for a nuclear weapon

categorically – adv. to say in a very strong, clear and definite way

implement – v. to begin to do or use (something, such as a plan) : to make (something) active or effective

unified – v. past tense of joining or bringing together

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