US President Donald Trump pledged to “take care” of North Korea after its latest ballistic missile launch — the first after a two-month hiatus — which his Pentagon chief said was its highest yet, signifying an expanded threat.
The ICBM is believed to have flown a relatively modest 1,000 kilometers from North Korea, before splashing down harmlessly in the Sea of Japan.
But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile went higher than ever before and was a step toward North Korea building missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world, basically.”
“I will only tell you that we will take care of it, Trump said at the White House.
“It is a situation that we will handle,” he added, in remarks designed to show resolve, but which offered little clue of an immediate US response.
The US president has threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it continues to work toward an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
A more than two-month pause in tests had prompted speculation about whether North Korea might be willing to embrace a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff.
Shortly after Trump spoke, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “diplomatic options remain viable and open” on North Korea — but they now appear to be further away than ever before.
Mattis said South Korea had responded to the test by launching pinpoint missile strikes into the water — an effort to show North Korea that a true attack would bring a swift and crippling response.
Since coming to office, Trump has ratcheted up the diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime of Kim Jong-Un.
He has pressed China to break trade ties with its dependent neighbour and has applauded countries for shuttering Pyongyang’s diplomatic installations, which have long been used to gather illicit finance.
Earlier this month, Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism — a symbolic move, but one which amps up diplomatic pressure on the regime.
“We have a very serious approach. Nothing changed,” Trump said.
The intercontinental ballistic missile flew about 1,000 kilometers before splashing down.