Moon condemns N.K. missile test, urges it to halt provocations for dialogue

SEOUL-- South Korean President Moon Jae-in strongly condemned North Korea on Sunday for its latest missile launch, describing it as a grave threat to regional security and a clear violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

He also called on Pyongyang to reverse its course of provocations for the resumption of dialogue while warning that his administration would deal resolutely with its provocations in order to ensure it would not "miscalculate" the situation.

"Even if dialogue is possible, (we) should show (to North Korea) that it's possible only in case of North Korea changing its attitude," Moon said during a session of the National Security Council at the presidential compound Cheong Wa Dae.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile around 5:27 a.m. from a site about 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang, South Korea's military said.

It was the North's first military provocation since the inauguration of Moon, a liberal leader favoring an engagement policy on the North.

He called it a "grave challenge" to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the international community, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan told reporters.

In particular, Moon took issue with the timing of the North's missile firing, which is the second in two weeks and came just days after the launch of the new South Korean government on Wednesday.

Moon expressed "deep regret over North Korea's reckless provocation" and ordered his troops to bolster deterrence against its military threats on the basis of the robust alliance with the United States.

He especially instructed the military to speed up the establishment of South Korea's own missile defense system, called the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD).

The missile flew some 700 kilometers for half an hour and dropped in the East Sea.

Japan's defense minister said that it reached a maximum altitude of over 2,000 km, an indication that it may be a new type of missile in development.

The U.S. Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, also announced that it detected and tracked the launch of the missile, which landed in the East Sea.

Given the height and flight distance, officials here said, the missile test is believed to have been successful.

The South's foreign ministry issued a statement denouncing the North's behavior.

"The government strongly warns North Korea not to test the will of our government and the international community, including the U.S. and China, for enduring peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," the ministry said.

It demanded that Pyongyang stop provocative acts and return to the path of negotiations for denuclearization.

The JCS also issued a strong warning message, urging the North to immediately stop its nuclear and missile development programs.

The JCS warned that the North would face "strong retaliations" from the allies if it continues to ignore their warning messages and sticks to provocations.

South Korea's National Security Office Chief Kim Kwan-jin and his U.S. counterpart H.R. McMaster had a 25-minute phone conversation, jointly condemning Pyongyang's latest provocation.

Kim and McMaster also agreed to bolster efforts to seek the denuclearization of North Korea. The two also vowed to maintain a thorough military readiness against Pyongyang based on the strong Seoul-Washington alliance.

The foreign ministry said Seoul's chief negotiator on the North Korean nuclear issue also had phone talks with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Joseph Yun and Kenji Kanasugi, to share assessments on the latest missile firing and discuss how to respond to it.

"The top nuclear envoys agreed to closely consult with each other about future responses including measures to be taken by the United Nations Security Council," a ministry official said.

China also expressed its opposition to the North's provocation and called on all sides to refrain from heightening regional tensions.

"China opposes the DPRK's violation of the Security Council's resolutions. All relevant parties should exercise restraint and refrain from further aggravating tensions in the region," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The North test-fired a Pukguksong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), also known as the KN-15, from the same site on Feb. 12.

Sunday's launch, the North's first-known missile test in two weeks, came amid renewed hopes of inter-Korean dialogue under Moon's presidency.

Moon is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump as early as next month to coordinate an approach toward the Kim Jong-un regime.

The missile launch was widely viewed as a test of Moon's resolve.

It also tried out the Moon government's handling of the North's provocation, with many conservatives in the South questioning its capability on the national security front.

Forty-one minutes after the missile firing, Moon received a related report in person from his chief of staff Im Jong-seok.

He was quick in giving instructions to his security aides and issuing a direct warning message for the North, presiding over the NSC meeting joined by defense, foreign and unification ministers, and the national intelligence chief appointed by his predecessor Park Geun-hye, Im told reporters.

It is rare for Cheong Wa Dae to swiftly make public such a specific timeline on the president's activities related to national security.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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