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South Korea, U.S. Say North Fires Ballistic Missile Into Sea Of Japan

Authorities are still not sure what type of missile was fired, but some experts speculate it could have been a Musudan (file photo).

U.S. and South Korean military officials say North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile early on February 12, with the United States, Seoul and Japan saying they are weighing all options to punish the rogue nation.

"The flight distance was about 500 kilometers, and South Korea and the United States are conducting a close-up analysis on additional information," South Korea's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said after the launch.

U.S. officials confirmed they had tracked the missile and said it likely was a medium- or intermediate-range missile but not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). They said it did not pose a threat to the United States.

The report came as U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were meeting in Florida.

In unscheduled brief comments, Trump said he stood with Japan "100 percent," while Abe said the launch was "absolutely unacceptable."

A U.S. official earlier in the evening said the Trump administration had expected a "provocation" from the North and that it would consider the "full range" of options, including financial sanctions and increased naval assets in the region.

South Korean Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said his country will respond to punish the North for the missile launch, condemning it as a "blatant and obvious" violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a "serious threat" to international security.

Japan said it will press the Security Council for a "serious response" to the launch.

"North Korea's launch was in breach of current UN Security Council resolutions," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said. "We are working to secure a firm response to these actions by the UN Security Council."

France also condemned the missile launch by North Korea saying it was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

"France reaffirms its solidarity with its partners in the Asia-Pacific whose security is threatened by the North Korean nuclear and ballistic program," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It was the first such launch since Trump took office and could be seen as a direct challenge to the new administration.

Trump had said during a press conference on February 10 with Abe that the two countries will work together to defend against "the North Korean missile and nuclear threat, both of which I consider a very, very high priority."

The South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that "our assessment is that it is part of a show of force in response to the new U.S. administration's hardline position against the North."

Tensions have risen on the Korean Peninsula since Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, last month said the country was close to test-launching an ICBM.

That comment brought a vow of an "overwhelming" response from the United States by Defense Secretary James Mattis during his visit to South Korea this month.

A South Korea Defense Ministry official said the missile was fired from the Banghyon airbase in the western province of North Pyongan and flew toward the Sea of Japan.

The Yonhap news agency said the South Korean military suspected the North might have been testing an intermediate-range Musudan missile.

The North last year twice tested Musudan missiles from the air base.

Retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling told CNN that the test was a step toward an ICBM.

"That's the goal of the North Korean politicians," he said.

"This intermediate ballistic missile is certainly dangerous," he said. "It has a greater range than some of the Musudan missiles that they have been testing prior to that. And it's not only a concern for the United States to hit the mainland, but it also has concerns for all of our Asia partners."

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and TASS
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