North Korea has fired a missile over Japan which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called the “most serious and grave ever” threat to the country.
The missile was fired just before 6 a.m. in Japan. The launch set off warnings in the northern part of the country urging people to seek shelter.
It flew over Erimomisaki, on the northern island of Hokkaido, and broke into three pieces before falling into the Pacific Ocean, about 1,180 kilometers (733 miles) off the Japanese coast.
The missile was in flight for about 14 minutes, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at an emergency press conference. “There is no immediate report of the fallen objects and no damage to the ships and aircraft,” he added.
Pentagon spokesman US Army Col. Rob Manning said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to North America.
Abe told reporters he had a 40-minute phone call with US President Donald Trump to discuss the missile launch. The two countries have requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, according to Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Koro Bessho.
“The international community has to put more pressure on North Korea,” Ambassador Bessho said.
The missile was launched near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which is rare.
CNN’s Will Ripley, who is on the ground in Pyongyang, said the news had not been broadcast to people inside North Korea as of 9:45 a.m. local time.
South Korea responded by conducting a bombing drill at 9:30 a.m. local time to test its “capability to destroy the North Korean leadership” in cases of emergency, an official with the country’s Defense Ministry told CNN.
Yoon Young-chan, the head of South Korea’s Presidential Office Public Affairs Office, told reporters that Four F-15K fighter jets dropped eight one-ton MK-84 bombs at a shooting range.
The operation was meant “to showcase a strong punishment capability against the North,” he said.
First time since 1998
Tuesday’s launch comes just three days after Pyongyang test-fired three short-range ballistic missiles from Kangwon province — of the three, one failed.
Notably, however, it is the the first time the country has successfully fired a missile over Japan since 1998, when it sent a satellite launch vehicle over the country.
North Korea also launched satellites into orbit in 2012 and 2016, after which parts of both rockets that carried the satellites fell into the waters to Japan’s east and south. Experts say those satellite launches could be used to test the same technology used in ballistic missiles.
Analysts believe Tuesday’s launch shows a new level of confidence from the North Koreans.
“It is a big deal that they overflew Japan, which they have carefully avoided doing for a number of years, even though it forced them to test missiles on highly lofted trajectories, and forced them to launch their satellites to the south, which is less efficient than launching to the east (due to the Earth’s rotational motion),” said David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“This will make it more difficult for the US to get Japanese support for diplomacy, unfortunately, at exactly the time when the situation is heating up.”
US Senator Lindsey Graham quickly weighed in on Twitter, calling the launch a “a big-time” escalation of conflict.
“Trump Admin must forcefully respond to convince N. Korea their efforts to destabilize the region & world will not be allowed to mature,” he said.
Graham made headlines earlier this month after telling NBC’s “Today” show that President Trump assured him “if there’s going to be a war to stop them, it will be over there,” a comment which concerned US allies already in range of much of North Korea’s arsenal.
Minutes after the missile was launched, residents in northern Japan received a text message urging them to seek shelter in a strong structure or a basement. “We were awoken by sirens and messages from the government telling us to take cover,” one local resident told CNN.
The first message came in at 6:02 a.m. Japan time:
“Missile launched. missile launched. It seems that the missile has been launched from North Korea. Please evacuate to building with strong structure or go to the basement.”
The second alert came in about 12 minutes later:
“Missile passed. Missile passed. A minute ago, the missile seems to have pass the airspace of this area. If you find anything suspicious, please don’t come close to it, report to the police and firefighter directly.”
Prime Minister Abe condemned the launch as a “reckless act.”
“We have fully grasped the movement of the missile immediately after their launch and have been taking every possible effort to protect the lives of people,” he said. “It is a serious and grave threat which impairs the safety and peace of the region.”
Pyongyang’s missile tests are banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions, but that hasn’t stopped current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from attempting to rapidly develop his country’s nuclear and missile programs.
The country has long maintained that it will only abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons if the United States ends what Pyongyang calls the American “hostile policy” to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.
“They cross line after line in an effort to say this is the new reality and you should accept it and go easy on us,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress. “I think that’s a pretty unambiguous signal that they’re no longer going to be restrained by the United States.”
The administration of US President Donald Trump is pursuing what it calls a strategy of “peaceful pressure” to rein in North Korea’s weapons programs. The goal is to put enough diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang in order to push them to the negotiating table.
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump hinted that the strategy appeared to be working.
Trump mused at a rally in Phoenix that Kim might now respect the United States. At a State Department briefing Wednesday in Washington, Tillerson said the brief respite in the missile launches may have been an example of North Korea demonstrating restraint.
“If Trump and Tillerson believed North Korea backed down, they were sorely mistaken,” Mount said.
“They’re not going to volunteer to do this (give up their weapons). Ever,” he said. “It’s a matter of bargaining. And North Korea has signaled over and over again that the price is really high.”
Another US official says US spy satellites had been observing preparations for a ballistic missile test that would be most likely an intermediate range missile that could reach Guam, the small US territory in the Western Pacific that Pyongyang threatened earlier this month. The official says the assessment is ongoing.
The launch was also likely a signal to Japan, analysts say, as it comes the day after the Northern Viper military drills ended between the United States and Japan on Hokkaido.
Analysts say it’s likely part of a North Korea strategy to drive a wedge between the US and its two main allies in the region — Japan and South Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters this launch “could endanger peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. It is also very dangerous and problematic in terms of the traffic safety of planes and ships.”
The United States is currently participating in its annual 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises with South Korea, which began on August 21. Those drills are more logistical and defensive in nature — though Pyongyang sees them as provocative — whereas the Northern Viper drills could be considered more operational, Mount said.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemned the North Korean launch as “yet another provocation despite grave messages of warning,” in a statement Tuesday.
“The North Korean regime needs to realize that denuclearization is the only true path to securing its security and economic development and needs to come to the path for nuclearization dialogue instead of conducting its reckless provocation,” the statement said.