US and South Korea confirm ICBM test, launch joint military exercises – Washington Post

By Emily Rauhala,

BEIJING — Tensions over North Korea’s July 4 missile test mounted Wednesday, with the U.S. and South Korean forces conducting military exercises and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appearing to personally taunt the president of the United States.

The latest test launch was a display of the North’s longest-reaching weapon yet — an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range that experts say covers Alaska.

Before his inauguration, President Trump said North Korea’s plan to develop an ICBM capable of hitting the United States “won’t happen” and has since made tough talk on the issue a signature. 

Now Trump could be forced into a difficult test amid deep international divisions over how to respond to an increasingly defiant North Korea.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for “global action” to counter North Korea. But in a joint statement issued late Tuesday, Beijing and Moscow called for a “double suspension” that would see Pyongyang freeze its weapon program and the U.S. and South Korea stop joint military exercises. 

Instead, the maneuvers went ahead in what U.S. Pacific Command called an “ironclad” show of resolve. In one exercise, the U.S. Army and the South Korea military fired missiles off the eastern coast of South Korea.

A U.S. commander warned that North Korea’s action threatened the tense balance on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

[Experts: North Korea tested a “real ICBM”]

“Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” Gen. Vincent K Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, and Gen Lee Sun-jin, chairman of the South’s joint chiefs of staff, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s leader Kim threatened more tests and taunted Trump, calling the ICBM test an Independence Day gift, according to North Korean state media.

South Korean authorities described the North’s test as a two-stage missile with a range of about 4,300 to 5,000 miles. That is enough to reach Alaska and other parts of North America.

Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations at Troy University in Seoul, said he saw no chance the U.S. and South Korea would agree to halt joint exercises, especially after the North’s latest missile test.

“It’s a non-starter, it’s just not going to happen,” he said.

But there also appears to be very little international consensus on what to do next.

Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based expert on North Korea, sees a growing divide between the positions of the U.S., South Korea and Japan, on one hand, and China and Russia on the other. 

 “Two opposing blocs have been formed,” he said. 

South Korea’s defense minister, Han Min-koo, said there is high probability Pyongyang will stage another nuclear test. He also noted gains in their efforts to miniaturize a warhead — both steps toward developing nuclear-tipped weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States.

[North Korea looms large in planned Putin-Trump talks]

Since taking office, Trump has focused his foreign policy efforts on getting China to pressure North Korea to back down, in part by choking of the regime’s access to resources.

This idea formed the basis of talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in April, where Washington and Beijing appeared to put aside differences in the name of cooperation on North Korea and trade.

That arrangement seems to be failing fast. In recent weeks, there have been signs that Trump is frustrated with China’s progress. On June 21, he tweeted: “It has not worked out.”

On Tuesday, as news of the North Korean test broke, but before missile was confirmed to be an ICBM, the president vented again. “Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer,” he wrote.

“Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” He did not say what type of move he hoped for.

The focus on Chinese efforts has exasperated Beijing, which insists it has done its part to pressure Pyongyang and resents being singled out. 

“The international community has no solutions,” said Song Xiaojun, who used to run a government linked-military magazine. “The U.S. wants to transfer the burdens to China.”

Both foreign and Chinese analysts expressed frustration that the United States did not seem focused on getting North Korea to the table. 

“The first obvious step is talking to them, that’s just kind diplomacy 101,” said John Delury, an assistant professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University. 

“Obama didn’t do enough about that either,” he added. “There has been a severe drought of talking at a high level with North Koreans.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing would push for dialogue at the United Nations. “We hope the relevant discussions of the North Korea nuclear issue focus on dialogue, negotiation, and peaceful settlement as soon as possible,” he said. 

Dan Lamothe reported from Washington; Shirley Feng, Luna Lin and Yang Liu reported from Beijing.

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