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North Korea Launches Ballistic Missile, Tests Trump

With the news cycle clearly far less interested in Trump’s golf game or Abe’s handicap, just before 8am local time (6pm ET), North Korea decided to provide CNN with some “exciting” news when it fired a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military said, in what was the latest test of Trump’s resolve to retaliate to North Korean provocations.

This was the first missile launch by North Korea since Donald Trump – who has repeatedly threatened of taking retaliatory measures against such an act – took office. The launch also comes just one day after the US Air Force test-fired a Minuteman ICBM from California.

Cited by Reuters, a US official said that while the U.S. military had detected the missile launch and was assessing it, it was probably not an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The missile was launched from an area named Panghyon in North Korea’s western region and flew about 500 kilometers (300 miles) before falling into the sea, the South’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in statements. “Our assessment is that it is part of a show of force in response to the new U.S. administration’s hardline position against the North,” the office said.

The South’s military said Seoul and Washington were analyzing the details of the launch. Yonhap News Agency said the South Korean military is assessing the launch to confirm whether it was a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, which has a designed flight range of 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles). The U.S. military also said it had detected a missile test launch by the North and was assessing it, according to a U.S. defense official in Washington.

Japan’s government said it had asked the UN to issue “a strong message” against North Korea for the latest provocation.

The North tried to launch a Musudan eight times last year during the Obama presidency, but most attempts failed. One launch that sent a missile 400 km (250 miles), more than half the distance to Japan, was considered a success by officials and experts in the South and the United States.

Sunday’s launch comes a day after Trump held a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and said he agreed to work to ensure strong defense against North Korea’s threat. South Korea’s presidential Blue House said a National Security Council meeting was called and chaired by President Park Geun-hye’s top national security advisor.

One month ago, during his New Year speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that the country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and state media said such a launch could come at any time, leading Trump to write on Twitter, “It won’t happen!” Trump did not give specifics of how he’d stop Kim’s missile development.

He may have to now.

At the time, Kim’s comments prompted a vow of an “overwhelming” response from U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and a number of missile-related tests at an unprecedented rate since early last year and was seen by experts and officials to be making progress in its weapons capabilities.

If indeed today’s launch is a “show of force” in response to the US hardline position, the entire world will be closely watching to see if Trump is about to fold again as he did on Friday, when he was called a “paper tiger” by China’s media after reversing his position on the “One China” policy, and agreeing that he would not challenge China’s legacy status with Taiwan.

According to the press, the White House – and president Trump at Mar-A-Lago – has been briefed on the launch.

We expect either a very angry tweet in response shortly, or a mushroom cloud to emerge in the middle of Pyongyang any minute.

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