North Korea failed in an attempt to test-fire another ballistic missile on Wednesday, with the projectile exploding within seconds of launch, according to US and South Korean defence officials.
The launch comes amid growing confrontation between the reclusive nation and the US.
While visiting South Korea last week, Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, made clear that Washington was considering all options, including military strikes, to halt Pyongyang’s rapidly developing nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes.
“North Korea fired one missile from an area near the Wonsan air base this morning, but it is presumed to have failed,” said South Korea’s defence ministry in a brief statement.
US officials added that the rocket appeared to have been launched from Gangwon province, in the south-east of North Korea, but did not specify the type of projectile.
Concerns are mounting that Pyongyang will soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US, a move likely to spark a strong response from Washington.
Since the beginning of the year, North Korea has test-fired a series of medium-range ballistic missiles, including three last month that landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
On Sunday it tested a high-thrust rocket engine in what South Korean military officials called a “meaningful” advance of its weapons programme.
The sabre-rattling has been linked to ongoing joint US-South Korea military drills in the region that Pyongyang has described as “the most undisguised nuclear war manoeuvres”.
As part of the drills, the US has deployed an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine, the presence of which have further infuriated Pyongyang.
The situation on the Korean peninsula has emerged as one of US President Donald Trump’s most pressing foreign policy challenges.
Following his inauguration, the White House promptly commenced a review of its policy towards North Korea. The results of this review are expected soon, although hopes of the self-professed dealmaker president striking a “grand bargain” with Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, are looking increasingly slim.
In Seoul, Mr Tillerson declared an end to the US policy of “strategic patience”, which aimed to topple the Kim regime through a long game of sanctions and cyber attacks.
Barring a tilt towards military action, it now appears likely that the Trump administration will seek to strengthen its sanctions policy.
A more stringent sanctions regime might include a secondary boycott of Chinese companies doing business with North Korea — a move likely to hit Beijing-Washington ties — or a greater focus on cutting Pyongyang off from global finance.
Swift, the Brussels-based international system that supports most of the world’s financial transactions, last week severed North Korea’s remaining links to its services, saying the country’s banks were “no longer compliant with Swift’s membership criteria”.
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