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Tensions were reaching breaking point on the Korean peninsula today amid claims that Kim Jong-un is planning to defy the world with another intercontinental ballistic missile test.
The new threat to peace came hours after Seoul launched a missile drill in retaliation for North Korea’s detonation of what it says was a hydrogen bomb.
The game of brinkmanship was moving into a dangerous new phase following US warnings of a “massive military response” and South Korea’s insistence that the time for talking is over.
Today the South’s military fired rockets into the sea as part of a simulated attack on the North’s main nuclear experimentation site.
Afterwards defence ministry official Chang Kyung-soo told parliament in Seoul: “We have continued to see signs of possibly more ballistic missile launches. We also forecast North Korea could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile.”
He said the South intended to strengthen its military rather than hold further talks, and would co-operate with the US and seek to deploy “strategic assets like aircraft carriers and strategic bombers”.
The UN Security Council is meeting today at the request of America, Japan, Britain, France and South Korea after condemnation of Pyongyang’s nuclear test at the weekend. The South’s defence ministry measured the blast at 50 kilotons, Yonhap news agency said. The North said it had tested a device that can fit onto a long-range missile.
Theresa May blasted the “reckless” act, saying North Korea’s actions posed an “unacceptable further threat to the international community” and calling for “tougher action”. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said “all options are on the table” but cautioned that there were no simple military solutions, saying any attack on North Korea could “basically vaporise large sections of the South Korean population”.
In the past two months Pyongyang has carried out a number of missile tests, sending one over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. It has also threatened to fire rockets towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.
The North’s latest nuclear test — its sixth and strongest — measured 6.3 in magnitude and seismologists initially thought it was an earthquake. Photos were released of Kim with what his state media said was a new type of hydrogen bomb. Theoretically, experts say, Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missiles could reach the US.
South Korea said it would hold more live-fire drills, involving Taurus air-to-surface missiles mounted on F-15 jets, to “strongly warn” the North that its repeated threats will not be tolerated.
After a briefing with Donald Trump, US defence secretary James Mattis said: “Any threat to the United States or its territories or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.”
In a tweet that appeared to be aimed at China, Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, Mr Trump said: “The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.”
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