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N. Korea speeds up missile plan, South is nervous

SEOUL/GENEVA

North Korea’s missile programme is progressing faster than expected, South Korea’s defence minister said on Tuesday, after the UN Security Council demanded the North halt all nuclear and ballistic missile tests and condemned Sunday’s test-launch.

The reclusive North, which has defied all calls to rein in its weapons programmes, even from its lone major ally, China, said the missile test was a legitimate defence against US hostility.

The North has been working on a missile, mounted with a nuclear warhead, capable of striking the US mainland. US President Donald Trump’s administration has called for an immediate halt to Pyongyang’s provocations and has warned that the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over. US Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said on Tuesday China’s leverage was key and it could do more.

South Korean Defence Minister Han Min-koo told parliament Sunday’s test-launch was “successful in flight”. “It is considered an IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) of enhanced calibre compared to Musudan missiles that have continually failed,” he said, referring to a class of missile designed to travel up to 3,000 to 4,000km.

Asked if North Korea’s missile programme was developing faster than the South had expected, he said: “Yes.”

The North’s KCNA news agency said Sunday’s launch tested its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”. Its ambassador to China said in Beijing on Monday it would continue such test launches “any time, any place”.

The test-launch was a legitimate act of self-defence under international law and US criticism was a “wanton violation of the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK”, a North Korean diplomat told the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday.

Pyongyang has regularly threatened to destroy the United States, which it accuses of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war by conducting recent military drills with South Korea and Japan.

Trump and new South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet in Washington next month, with North Korea expected to be high on the agenda, the South’s presidential Blue House said.

In a unanimous statement, the 15-member UN Security Council on Monday said it was of vital importance that North Korea show “sincere commitment to denuclearisation through concrete action and stressed the importance of working to reduce tensions”.

The North’s foreign ministry rejected the statement, saying it infringed on its right to self-defence, particularly as the missile was test-launched at a sharp angle to ensure safety of neighbouring countries. The UN statement also condemned an April 28 ballistic missile launch by Pyongyang.

Following the launch, Washington began talks with China on possible new UN sanctions. The Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2006 and has stiffened them in response to its five nuclear tests and two long-range rocket launches.

Besides worries about North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programmes, cyber security researchers have found technical evidence they said could link the North with the global WannaCry “ransomware” cyber attack that has infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries since Friday.

Reuters