North Korea reportedly test-fires missile, challenging U.S.

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- North Korea reportedly fired a ballistic missile early today in what would be its first such test of the year and an implicit challenge to President Donald Trump's new administration.

Details of the launch, including the type of missile, were scant.

There was no confirmation from the North, which recently had warned it is ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The reports come as Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and days before North Korea will mark the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un's late father, Kim Jong Il.

Late Saturday, Abe said North Korea's missile launch was "absolutely intolerable" and Donald Trump assured Japan the U.S. stands behind it "100 percent."

Abe and Trump appeared together for a joint statement.

In a ballroom at Trump's south Florida estate, Abe read a brief statement in which he called on the North to comply fully with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.

He said Trump assured him of U.S. support, and Trump's presence showed the president's determination and commitment.

Trump followed Abe with fewer words, saying in part: "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent."

In Washington, public-affairs officers for the Defense Department and the State Department had no comment.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement the projectile was fired from around Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, which is where South Korean officials have said the North test launched its powerful midrange Musudan missile on Oct. 15 and 20.

The South's Yonhap news agency quoted an anonymous military source saying the missile flew 310 miles.

But Yonhap reported while determinations still are being made, it was not believed to be an ICBM.

The missile is believed to have splashed down into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile did not hit Japanese territorial seas.

The North conducted two nuclear tests and a slew of rocket launches last year in continued efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Kim Jong Un said in his New Year's address the country has reached the final stages of readiness to test an ICBM, which would be a major step forward in its efforts to build a credible nuclear threat to the United States.

Though Pyongyang has been relatively quiet about the transfer of power to the Trump administration, its state media has called for Washington to abandon its "hostile policy" and vowed to continue its nuclear and missile development programs until the U.S. changes its diplomatic approach.

Days ago, it reaffirmed its plan to conduct more space launches, which it defends but which have been criticized because they involve dual-use technology that can be transferred to improve missiles.

Kim Dong-yeop, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, speculated the projectile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.

Analysts are divided over how close the North is to having a reliable long-range rocket that could be coupled with a nuclear warhead capable of striking U.S. targets.

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