By Josh Smith and Mariko Katsumura
SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) -North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile on Sunday, as it condemned U.S.-led military shows of force including the arrival of a submarine in South Korea as tantamount to “a preview of a nuclear war”.
The missile was launched towards the sea off North Korea’s east coast and flew about 570 km (350 miles) before falling in the ocean, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The launch came after warnings from officials in Seoul and Tokyo that nuclear-armed North Korea was preparing to test-fire a missile, including one of its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) this month.
All of North Korea’s ballistic missile activities are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions, though Pyongyang defends them as its sovereign right to self defence.
“North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launch is a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution, which prohibits the use of ballistic missile technology and scientific and technological cooperation,” South Korea’s JCS said in a statement.
Less than half an hour after the launch, North Korean state media carried a statement from the defence ministry criticizing “military gangsters” in the United States and South Korea for raising tensions with drills, displays of force, and nuclear war planning.
The statement by an unnamed ministry spokesman cited the arrival of the U.S. nuclear-powered submarine Missouri in the South Korean port city of Busan on Sunday.
“The armed forces of the DPRK will thoroughly neutralize the U.S. and its vassal forces’ attempt to ignite a nuclear war and thus reliably ensure peace and security in the Korean peninsula,” the statement said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The spokesman also criticized South Korea and the U.S. for holding their second Nuclear Consultative Group meeting in Washington on Friday, as part of efforts by the allies to streamline war planning and increase military shows of force as a warning to North Korea.
The launch was immediately detected, tracked and monitored, and information was closely shared between the United States and Japan, South Korea’s military said.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in a statement on Sunday said it was aware of the missile launch and was closely consulting with allies and partners.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program,” the statement said, adding that the U.S. commitment “to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”
The three countries had said that a real-time missile information sharing system would become operational this month.
About 20 minutes after initially reporting the launch, the Japanese coast guard said the missile had already fallen.
It appeared to have fallen outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), broadcaster NTV reported.
(Reporting by Mariko Katsumura in Tokyo and Josh Smith in Seoul;Editing by Alison Williams, Giles Elgood and Sandra Maler)