Trump administration avoids escalating tensions over North Korea missile blast

  • 13/02/2017
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (Reuters)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (Reuters)

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the sea in the first such test since US President Donald Trump was elected, but his administration has indicated it will try to avoid escalating tensions.

The test is likely to have been of an intermediate-range Musudan-class missile that landed in the Sea of Japan, according to South Korea's military, not an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which the North has said it could test at any time.

The launch marks the first test of Trump's vow to get tough on an isolated North Korean regime that last year tested nuclear devices and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate in violation of United Nations resolutions.

A US official said the Trump administration had been expecting a North Korean "provocation" soon after taking office and will consider a full range of options in response, but they would be calibrated to show US resolve while avoiding escalation.

Later, White House adviser Stephen Miller said on Fox News Sunday that "we are going to reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we've seen in recent years from the North Korean regime."

The new administration is also likely to step up pressure on China to rein in North Korea, reflecting Trump's previously stated view that Beijing has not done enough on this front, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"This was no surprise," the official said. "The North Korean leader likes to draw attention at times like this."

The latest test comes a day after Trump held a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and also follows Trump's phone call last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Abe called the launch "absolutely intolerable" and said North Korea must comply with UN Security Council resolutions.

NATO condemned the missile test in a statement by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said North Korea "must refrain from further provocations, halt all launches using ballistic missile technology and abandon once and for all its ballistic missile programs".

The French foreign ministry also condemned the launch.