North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Ahead of Xi-Trump Meeting

| Apr 06, 2017 10:52 PM EDT

People watch a television screen showing a breaking news on North Korea's long-range rocket launch at Seoul Station on Feb. 7, 2016, in Seoul, South Korea.

North Korea has reportedly test-fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Tuesday, according to South Korea and the U.S. military.

The missile was launched from the Sinpo region on North Korea's eastern coast and traveled a distance of 60km before crashing into the sea, South Korea's defense ministry said.

"The military is keeping a close watch over North Korea's provocative moves and maintaining a high defense posture," it said.

Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), identified the missile KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile and was of little threat.

"The missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America," he said in an official statement.

U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson confirmed to the press that North Korea had launched "yet another" intermediate-range ballistic missile but refused to comment further.

Japan condemned the launch and said it violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.

"Japan never tolerates North Korea's repeated provocative actions. The government strictly protested and strongly condemned it," Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said.

North Korea is banned from conducting any missile or nuclear tests by the U.N., although it has repeatedly broken those sanctions.

The launch comes on the eve of the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the U.S. to meet President Donald Trump.

The Xi-Trump meeting is expected to discuss North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as the U.S. looks toward China, a long-time ally of Pyongyang, for help on the issue, the BBC reported.

Trump said in a recent interview that Washington is ready to act even if Beijing did not step in.

"If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," he said.

North Korea's foreign ministry on Monday slammed the US for its tough talk and its ongoing military exercises with South Korea and Japan which Pyongyang sees as preparations for an invasion.

The "reckless actions" are driving the tense situation on the Korean peninsula "to the brink of war," a ministry spokesman told the official KCNA news agency.

The idea that the U.S. will prevent North Korea of its "nuclear deterrent" through sanctions is "the wildest dream," it said.

China has been North Korea's closest diplomatic ally and trading partner, although the relationship is under increasing pressure over Pyongyang's refusal to stop is nuclear and missile tests.

There are fears that Pyongyang may soon be capable of developing a long-range missile that can hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year.

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