North Korea's attempted missile launch fails, US officials say

Failed launch comes as North Korea celebrates founder's birthday

ByABC News
April 16, 2017, 6:13 AM

— -- An attempted missile launch by North Korea failed when it exploded immediately after liftoff, a U.S. official says.

An official said a missile was launched near Sinpo, North Korea, at 5:51 a.m. local time on Sunday, and it exploded immediately.

"U.S. Pacific Command detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 11:21 a.m. Hawaii time April 15. The launch of the ballistic missile occurred near Sinpo," U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Commander David Benham said.

According to a Defense Department official, the missile that was launched was land-based, and there was a high degree of confidence that it was not an ICBM, but an assessment was still underway.

"It looks like it was probably a medium-range ballistic missile," said a White House foreign policy adviser. "It failed after about 4, 5 seconds, it was not an ICBM." The official added that the launch had taken place from the same location as another failed launch on April 5 from the Sinpo naval base.

An administration official said President Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on the failed North Korean missile launch.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis released a statement that read, "The president and his military team are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment."

Vice President Mike Pence was briefed on what his office called a failed missile launch, on Air Force 2 en route to South Korea.

Pence was briefed on the situation in North Korea within an hour of his departure from Anchorage, Alaska, and was in contact with Trump, aides to Pence told reporters.

While speaking with U.S. members of the military in Seoul on Sunday, Pence described it as a "provocation."

"This morning's provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world," Pence said. "Your willingness to step forward, to serve, to stand firm without fear inspires our nation and inspires the world, and it's an honor for us to share this meal with you today."

And China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the failed launch during a phone call, The Associated Press reported, citing China's official Xinhua News Agency. Xinhua did not provide any details about the call, the AP reported.

As of Sunday evening local time, North Korea had not yet commented on the failed launch. The country's main Saturday news program did not mention it either.

According to the South Korean Yonhap News Agency, National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin called a session of the national security council.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said in statement that the launch "has again violated the resolution of the U.N. Security Council and threatened the security of the Korean Peninsula and the international society. Therefore the government strongly condemns it."

The statement continued, "We warn once again that if it leads to a nuclear experiment and or the ICBM launch, North Korea will have to face punitive consequences. The government is discussing necessary agreements with the related countries."

The Foreign Ministry also said the country is "speeding up procedures to suppress the expansion and strengthening the ROK–U.S. combined defense to protect the security of our nation and the lives of our people."

The launch attempt comes hours after North Korea rolled out intercontinental ballistic missiles and other military hardware at a massive parade to celebrate the birthday of the country's late founder, Kim Il Sung, a grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

State television showed leader Kim Jong Un addressing the thousands of soldiers and civilians taking part in the parade at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, the capital.

PHOTO: A man watches a TV showing file footage of a North Korea's ballistic missile at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, April 16, 2017.
A man watches a TV showing file footage of a North Korea's ballistic missile at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, April 16, 2017.

The festivities took place amid concerns that North Korea is possibly preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a significant rocket launch, such as its first flight test of an ICBM.

Tensions continue to rise between North Korea and the U.S.

Trump tweeted on Thursday that he had "great confidence" in China's ability to "properly deal with North Korea."

"If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will!" the tweet added.

North Korea's vice minister fired back, telling The Associated Press on Friday that Trump's tweets add fuel to a "vicious cycle" of tension between the two nations.

"We will go to war if they choose," the official said of U.S. officials.

Last week the Pentagon announced that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson strike group would head to the Sea of Japan, instead of its planned port visit to Australia.

Deploying the strike group is a show of American military force during a critical time in North Korea's missile and nuclear development.

This is North Korea's fifth missile test this year.

The last test, conducted on April 4, occurred just days before Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

U.S. officials assessed that the Scud-type missile spun out of control and landed in the Sea of Japan after traveling just 34 miles.

A mobile-launched missile tested on March 21 also exploded "within seconds of launch," according to U.S. Pacific Command. U.S. officials had not identified what type of missile was tested, since it exploded so soon after launch.

But not all of North Korea's tests have been failures. On March 6, the country launched five medium-range Scud missiles.

Four traveled more than 600 miles, the upper limit of their range, into the Sea of Japan. The fifth took off, but later crashed. Three of the missiles landed in waters in Japan's economic exclusion zone, which extends 200 miles from its shoreline.

The first test of this year -- the successful test of a land-based KN-15 missile on Feb. 12 -- was considered "a major advancement" by North Korea.

Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told a congressional panel that its success was significant because it was "a new solid medium range ballistic missile off a new transporter erector launcher."

ABC News' Luis Martinez, Alexander Mallin, Joohee Cho and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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