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North Korean Missile Blows Up Shortly After Launch

A TV screen shows a file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A TV screen shows a file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A North Korean missile exploded shortly after launch on Sunday, U.S. officials said.

The land-based medium-range ballistic missile was fired around 11:21 a.m. Hawaii time from a site in the eastern part of North Korea near Sinpo but blew up shortly after liftoff, according to U.S. Pacific Command.

"The missile blew up almost immediately," the command said in a statement. "The type of missile is still being assessed."

The move came a day after North Korea rolled out what purported to be operational long-range missiles at a massive, goose-stepping parade Saturday. But the birthday of the Stalinist state's founder passed without action that may have provoked a U.S. response.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided but remained silent at celebrations In Pyongyang of the 105th anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, his grandfather and first leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Instead, the bellicose rhetoric came from Choe Ryond-hae, a top aide to Kim and a senior official in the ruling Workers Party.

"If they attempt a full-scale war, we will respond with a full-scale war," Choe said of the U.S. and South Korea. "If they start a nuclear war, we will respond with nuclear strikes."

The North has traditionally used milestone events for demonstrations of military might. The next major anniversary will be April 25, marking the founding of North Korea's army, but analysts warned that a nuclear test, which would be North Korea's sixth, could come at any time.

Earlier this week, the authoritative 38 North website, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said that satellite imagery showed that North Korea's Punggye-ri test site northeast of Pyongyang appeared "primed and ready" for a nuclear test.

At the parade, South Korean analysts noted the apparent absence of any top Chinese official. China, the North's only major ally, on Friday called on the U.S. and North Korea to back away from conflict.

On Saturday, China's state news agency said that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held phone conversations on preventing war on the peninsula and restarting peace negotiations.

The U.S. had warned North Korea against conducting another underground nuclear test or test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, prototype. The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its battle group was sent to waters off Korea in a show of force.

However, a U.S. military official told the Associated Press that the U.S. was unlikely to respond immediately to a nuclear test or missile launch by North Korea.

The Pentagon also announced that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would be leaving Washington Monday on a previously scheduled Mideast trip.

Leading publications in South Korea suggested that the new Trump administration was unnecessarily building up tensions in the region.

In an editorial, Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest newspaper, said, "the North Korean nuclear crisis can still be handled through diplomatic pressure. Stoking fears of an imminent attack is highly irresponsible. A likelier outcome is a repeat of the pattern seen over the past 20 years, when tensions flared on the Korean Peninsula only to be followed by dialogue."

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence left Washington for Seoul on a 10-day trip that will also take him to Japan, Indonesia and Australia. At a background briefing last Wednesday on the trip, a senior White House official said that the crisis on the peninsula would be at the top of the agenda, which will include discussions with Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces-Korea.

The official said Pence would focus on regional issues "as they relate to all of our national security strategy, but with particular emphasis on the belligerency of North Korea."

The long lines of military hardware on display at the parade included what appeared to be three types of ICBM. One was the KN-08, believed to be the North's first attempt at developing an ICBM.

The second appeared to be a KN-14, a modified version of the KN-08. A third purported ICBM encased in a large tube may have been a new type of ICBM, according to South Korean analysts quoted by the New York Times.

The display of new weaponry to keep South Korea and its allies on edge was accompanied by one of the North's old methods of spreading discord, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Radio Pyongyang broadcast a new combination of mysterious random numbers believed to be coded orders to its spies operating in South Korea, Yonhap reported.

"Spies could decode numbers to get orders by using a reference book, although many intelligence officials believe this form of sending orders to be outdated," Yonhap reported.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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