North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, claps his hands with joy as a Hwasong-14
intercontinental ballistic missile, center, makes a successful launch Friday
night. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in presides over a contingent meeting of
the National Security Council at 1 a.m. on Saturday over North Korea’s ballistic
missile launch at the dead of night. [YONHAP]
President Moon Jae-in ordered his aides on Saturday to start
discussions with their U.S. counterparts on deploying four additional mobile
launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), going back on
his decision that the Korean government would delay deployment plans by 10 to
Two Thaad launchers are currently operational in Seongju County, North
Gyeongsang, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Seoul, while four more
are stored on a U.S. military base.
Presiding over a National Security Council meeting at the Blue House on
Saturday at 1 a.m., following North Korea’s late-night launch of an
intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, Moon said the South
Korean government “strongly condemned” the launch, calling it a “serious
threat” to international peace and security.
Moon said South Korea and the United States will engage in a “much stronger
show of military force” than the North’s launch, and that Seoul will call on
the UN Security Council to draft tougher sanctions against the regime.
If necessary, he continued, the South Korean government may consider
implementing unilateral sanctions.
Moon’s push for Thaad was made 15 hours after the Ministry of National Defense
said it would expand Thaad’s environmental impact assessment and decide
whether to deploy the battery based on the result.
The announcement, made Friday morning, created confusion since Moon had
stressed he would not reverse the deployment, which was originally supposed to
be completed by the end of the year.
Moon’s Blue House has been at odds with the Defense Ministry over the
deployment procedures ever since the left-leaning president was elected in a
snap election in May, replacing Park Geun-hye, who signed the missile shield
agreement with the United Sates last year.
Moon’s administration has urged for “procedural legitimacy,” trying to buy
enough time to persuade Seongju County residents and China, who are vehemently
against the deployment, that Thaad is necessary for South Korea’s national
On Saturday, Blue House aides said Seoul still does not intend to scrap the
Thaad agreement with Washington, but that the government will make the final
decision after reviewing the results of a full-scale environmental assessment,
which is likely to end late next year.
On Moon’s decision to deploy four additional mobile launchers, his aides said
it would be a “temporary deployment.”
“President Moon sees North Korea’s missile threat with that much urgency,” a
senior official told reporters when asked why Moon was suddenly rushing
through Thaad’s placement. “We’re trying to seek procedural legitimacy through
the environmental impact assessment, yet feel the need to act fast on the
situation that’s unfolding.”
With Moon’s first bilateral summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping less than
a month away, local experts fear Beijing might call off talks in retribution.
After North Korea’s ICBM launch, China, its biggest ally, merely urged the
North to abide by UN Security Council resolutions.
The missile, fired on Friday at 11:40 p.m. from Chagang Province, which
borders China, peaked at an altitude of 3,700 kilometers and traveled nearly
1,000 kilometers before landing in the East Sea, according to South Korea’s
Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The military said the missile was a more advanced version of the one tested on
July 4, which peaked 900 kilometers lower and traveled 60 kilometers shorter.
Very rarely has North Korea fired a missile at night. A local military
official said it appeared Pyongyang was trying to display its ability to carry
out a test at night, which usually makes observation more difficult.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said the missile flew for
about 45 minutes before landing in the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic
zone. No damage was reported.
On its state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Saturday, North Korea
said leader Kim Jong-un personally ordered the launch and observed the test
alongside the country’s scientists and missile developers.
According to the agency, the projectile was the same Hwasong-14 version tested
on July 4, and it reached an altitude of 3,724.9 kilometers and flew for 47
minutes and 12 seconds before landing on its target in the East Sea with
The regime said the missile was intentionally flown at a steep angle in order
not to inflict harm on neighboring countries.
“The test-fire reconfirmed the reliability of the ICBM system,” the KCNA said
in English, “demonstrated the capability of making a surprise launch of ICBM
in any region and place any time, and clearly proved that the whole U.S.
mainland is in the firing range of the DPRK missiles.”
DPRK is short for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea.
The test, it continued, was meant to send a “grave warning” to the United
States that their “aggression-minded state would not go scot-free if it dares
provoke the DPRK.”
In a separate statement, issued by an unnamed spokesman for the Consultative
Council for National Reconciliation, which was released through the KCNA on
Saturday, North Korea slammed Moon’s five-year strategy for the North as
“sophism,” saying he was no different from his conservative predecessors, Lee
Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.
Moon’s strategy “denies the fundamental issues such as the defusing of
political and military confrontation between the North and the South and
includes odds and ends,” the statement read, lashing out at the Moon Blue
House for trying to seek North Korean denuclearization through dialogue.
“This goes to prove that the present South Korean authorities are keen on
worrying about their ‘administrative results’ and popularity.”
North Korea’s latest missile test was held a day after the 64th anniversary of
the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War with a ceasefire, which
North Korea celebrates as Victory Day.
North Korea watchers had thought Pyongyang would launch a missile on Thursday
after a Pentagon source predicted last week that a launch was likely to occur
around that time. North Korea has a history of highlighting crucial national
holidays with military provocations.
One reason why Pyongyang did not carry out a missile test on Thursday could be
that it rained, according to local experts, noting that missile parts are
highly sensitive to humidity.
North Korea’s missile tests are a critical blow for Moon, whose North Korea
policy is grounded in dialogue and engagement.
Pyongyang still has not given a direct response to Seoul on its offer to hold
inter-Korean military talks to cease all acts of hostility near the border.
The North also has not responded to Seoul’s proposition to discuss a reunion
for war-torn families tomorrow.
The government said it was still open to the offers. The last time Seoul held
government talks with Pyongyang was in December 2015, under the former Park
Geun-hye administration. The last family reunion was held in October of that