South Korea: North Korea launches ballistic missile

North Korea, missile launch
People watch a TV news program showing a file image of a missile being test-launched by North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday launched yet another ballistic missile in the direction of Japan, South Korean officials said, part of a string of recent test-firings as the North works to build a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the United States.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch, which came before the U.S. celebration of its national independence, was made from North Phyongan province. Other details were scarce. It wasn’t immediately clear if this was a routine firing of a short-range missile or an attempt to perfect North Korea’s longer-range missiles.

Just last week South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump focused much of their first meeting on opposing North Korea’s development of atomic weapons that threaten both allies.

Japan’s government said the missile was believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan but no damage to ships or aircraft in the area has been reported.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sharply criticized North Korea for the launch, adding it was a reminder that Pyongyang’s missile development is a growing threat.

“North Korea once again forced its missile launch despite a repeated warning from the international society,” Abe said. “The latest launch clearly showed that the threat is growing.”

Abe, who talked by phone with Trump on Monday, said the two leaders reaffirmed their strong cooperation and that they plan to seek further cooperation by the international society when they attend the G20 summit in Germany.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, warned Monday that further escalation of already high tensions with North Korea risks getting out of control, “and the consequences would be disastrous.”

The Korean Peninsula has been divided between the American-backed South and the authoritarian North since the 1950-53 Korean War. Worries have increased as the North’s leader Kim Jong Un pushes to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

Tuesday’s launch is the first by the North since a June 8 test of a new type of cruise missile that Pyongyang says is capable of striking U.S. and South Korean warships “at will.”

Since taking office on May 10, Moon has tried to improve strained ties with North Korea, but the North has continued its missile tests. Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons and powerful missiles to cope with what it calls rising U.S. military threats.