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North Korea launches second long-range ICBM missile

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The United States detected an intercontinental ballistic missile launch out of North Korea at approximately 10:45 am ET on Friday, the Pentagon confirmed to CNN — Pyongyang’s second such test this month.

The missile was launched from Mupyong-ni and traveled about 1000 km before splashing down in the waters off the Japanese coast, according to the Pentagon, which is working with interagency partners on a more detailed assessment.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.

“Our commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad. We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation,” a statement from the Pentagon said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japanese broadcaster NHK: “I have received the first report that North Korea again launched a missile and it possibly landed inside the exclusive economic zone.”

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile launched by North Korea possibly flew for approximately 45 minutes.

Suga told reporters there is no damage to any vessel or aircraft.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they estimate that the intercontinental ballistic missile is more advanced than one launched last month based on the range it traveled.

“The altitude is about 3,700 km and the flying distance is about 1,000 km. It is estimated that it was a more advanced type of an ICBM compared to the previous one based on the range,” a statement to CNN said.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and the commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, called the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Lee Sun Jin in the wake of North Korea’s test to express the ironclad commitment to the US-Republic of Korea alliance and discuss military response options.

The ongoing assessment from the US intelligence community in recent months has been that North Korea has accelerated its intercontinental range ballistic missile program.

The US believes that North Korea will be able to launch a reliable nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by early 2018, a US official familiar with the latest intelligence assessment confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

That would be an acceleration of two years from previous estimates that put Pyongyang three to five years from fully developing long-range missile capabilities.

The official clarified to CNN that while North Korea can currently get a missile “off the ground,” there are still a lot of undetermined variables about guidance, re-entry and the ability to hit a specific target.

CNN reported earlier this month that US intelligence indicated that North Korea was making preparations for another ICBM or intermediate range missile test.

Two administration officials familiar with the latest intelligence at the time confirmed they’d seen indicators of test preparations.

“In all honesty, we should not be surprised anymore: North Korea is slowly morphing into a nuclear and missile power right before our very eyes,” said Harry J. Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest and an expert on North Korea.

2017 has been a year of rapid progress for North Korea’s missile program.

Pyongyang has carried out 12 missile tests since February and conducted its first-ever test of an ICBM on July 4 — which it claims could reach “anywhere in the world.”

“North Korea will continue to test over and over again its missile technology and nuclear weapons in the months and years to come in order to develop the most lethal systems it can,” Kazianis said. “You can bet every time they do tensions will continue to rise. This is what makes the situation on the Korean Peninsula as dangerous as it is.”

Less than six years into his reign, Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.

What are President Donald Trump’s options?

North Korea’s latest test has spurred calls for a response from the Trump administration.

“North Korea’s latest missile test shows the Trump administration’s actions are not changing North Korea’s behavior and it’s time for the President to articulate a comprehensive strategy to the American people — so far he’s failed to do that,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu told CNN on Friday.

Trump administration officials have warned that “all options are on the table” but a clear path forward has yet to materialize.

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in foreign policy, told CNN that North Korea’s missile launch shows Pyongyang is “absolutely committed to their missile programs” and not interested in tempering their activities.

Bandow, who visited North Korea just last month, said the regime is convinced that developing its missile program as a nuclear deterrent is absolutely necessary — a mindset that continues to put pressure on President Donald Trump, who finds himself in a situation with no good choices, according to Bandow.

Those choices are further complicated by the unpredictable nature of Kim Jong Un, according to Lieu, who also told CNN he “does not know” if Kim would be willing to use a long-range nuclear weapon should he acquire that capability.

Trump has often cited China, North Korea’s longtime ally, as a key player in reining in North Korea’s quest to have long-range nuclear missiles.

But diplomatic efforts calling for China to put pressure on Pyongyang or enforce meaningful sanctions on North Korean revenue streams used to fund its missile program have proven ineffective to date.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has put countries on notice that if they or their companies help North Korea — also known as the DPRK — they’ll face penalties. That mostly means China, which accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade.

That doesn’t seem to be working yet.

Lawmakers in the US House and Senate have overwhelmingly passed a bill that would expand economic sanctions on North Korea, but the White House has not definitively said Trump will sign the sweeping measure that also tightens restrictions on Iran and Russia.

Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, implored Trump to sign the bill following North Korea’s missile test on Friday.

“These missile tests must be met with consequences. Earlier this week, I voted to increase sanctions against North Korea. The Senate has since taken the same action. I urge the President to quickly sign these sanctions into law to thwart further escalation of North Korea’s missile systems,” a statement from Turner said.

Even if Trump does sign the bill there is no guarantee that additional sanctions will slow North Korea’s march toward a long-range nuclear missile.

Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations have progressed forward rapidly despite previous sanctions, and Kim’s regime has resisted any US attempts at negotiation that mandates de-nuclearization upfront.

Earlier this year, Beijing called on Pyongyang to suspend its nuclear and missile tests while calling on the US to stop military exercises on and near the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea sees as a threat to its sovereignty.

But neither the US nor North Korea has shown any willingness to compromise as the situation has escalated in recent months.

Last month, CNN reported that the US military updated its options for North Korea with the goal of giving Trump plans for a rapid response, according to two US military officials at the time.

Officials said the options, which include a military response, would be presented to the President if Pyongyang conducted an underground nuclear or ballistic missile test that indicates the regime has made significant progress toward developing a weapon that could attack the US.

But a US preemptive attack continues to be highly problematic option because the Pentagon has long believed North Korea would in turn attack South Korea.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said. “The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

Those comments were met with harsh rhetoric from North Korea, which threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Tuesday.

KCNA reported that a spokesman from the North Korean foreign ministry said, “The DPRK legally stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the DPRK is threatened, it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.”

“Should the US dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the US with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time,” the foreign ministry spokesman added.

Earlier this year, Trump said he would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “under the right circumstances” to defuse tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

No sitting US president has ever met with the leader of North Korea while in power, and the idea is extremely controversial.

But some lawmakers now say they would support direct diplomacy with the North Korean regime.

“Sanctions without direct diplomatic engagement has been tried for over a decade and failed,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement.

“Pressure cannot bring North Korea to the table until we are willing talk to them. Now is the time for President Trump to clearly state his diplomatic engagement strategy, how he intends to use unprecedented sanctions pressure to bring North Korea to the table, and allow American diplomats to talk directly with North Korean diplomats so long as they freeze testing of their nuclear and missile programs,” he said.

Lieu, a member of the House foreign affairs committee said he would also support engaging the Kim regime directly.

“If the choice is between military conflict or talking, I would support talking,” Lieu told CNN.