By Ju-min ParkSEOUL, March 22 (Reuters) - A North Korean missile launch failed on Wednesday, with the rocket exploding within seconds, the U.S. military said, the latest in a series of North Korean weapons tests to rattle its neighbours and raise tension in the region.
South Korea said the apparent test launch of one missile by nuclear-capable North Korea, from the city of Wonsan on its east coast, had failed. South Korea's defence ministry said it was conducting an analysis to determine more details.
The U.S. military statement shed more light. "U.S. Pacific Command detected what we assess was a failed North Korean missile launch attempt ... in the vicinity of Kalma," Commander Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command, said in the statement, referring to an air field in Wonsan.
"A missile appears to have exploded within seconds of launch," Benham said, adding that work was being carried out on a more detailed assessment. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the missile may have exploded as it was launched, before reaching an altitude at which it could be detected by South Korean radar.
The launch comes as the U.S. envoy for North Korea nuclear programme, Joseph Yun, met his South Korean counterpart in Seoul to discuss a response to the North's weapons programmes. Just last week U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Japan, South Korea and China and how to handle North Korea was a major issue in his talks.
Speaking in Seoul on Friday, Tillerson said a policy of strategic patience with North Korea had ended and all options, including a military one, were on the table if North Korea threatened South Korean or U.S. forces. North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since the beginning of last year in defiance of U.N. resolutions. It is believed to be working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.
The initial reports of North Korea's tests on Wednesday came from Japan's Kyodo news agency, which cited a Japanese government source saying North Korea may have launched several missiles from an area on its east coast. Kyodo also said the launch may have failed. Last year, North Korea launched several intermediate-range missiles from the same area but only one of the tests was successful.
North Korea launched four ballistic missiles from near its west coast on March 6 and this week conducted a rocket engine test that its leader, Kim Jong Un, said opened "a new birth" of its rocket industry.
U.S. President Donald Tr*mp on Sunday criticized Kim, saying the North Korean leader was "acting very, very badly".
A senior U.S. official in Washington told Reuters on Monday that the Trump administration was considering sweeping sanctions as part of a broad review of measures to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile threat.
The United States is also deploying an advanced missile defence system in South Korea.
But China objects to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, saying its powerful radar can penetrate deep into its territory, undermining its security.
Undaunted by the possibility of even tougher sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system, a North Korean diplomat said his government would pursue an "acceleration" of its nuclear and missile programmes. This includes developing a "pre-emptive first strike capability" and an inter-continental ballistic missile, said Choe Myong Nam, deputy ambassador at the DPRK (North Korean) mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
Japan's Nikkei index <.N225> and South Korean stocks <.KS11> extended losses slightly after news of the North Korean launch broke but trade was steady overall.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, Kaori Kaneko and Chris Gallagher in TOKYO, Jiwon Choi and Christine Kim in SEOUL; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore) ((email@example.com; https://twitter.com/ChrisGallagher4; 81-3-6441-1842; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))