Attempted North Korean missile launch fails, U.S. confirms

Last Updated Apr 15, 2017 9:30 PM EDT

North Korea attempted and failed to launch a missile, the U.S. Pacific Command confirmed on Saturday. 

The official said the missile was not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which North Korea has claimed to possess but has never successfully tested.

The missile blew up almost immediately, the U.S. Pacific Command said. The type of missile is still being assessed.

It’s unclear why it failed. The missile was launched from Sinpo, on its east coast.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a short statement Saturday night, saying “the president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment.”

Vice President Mike Pence is en route to Seoul, the South Korean capital, as part of a 10-day swing through Asia.   

The Yonhap news agency in South Korea first reported the failed launch, citing the South Korean military. 

“The North attempted to launch an unidentified missile from near the Sinpo region this morning but it is suspected to have
failed,” the South’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement

North Korea spent the weekend celebrating the 105th anniversary of the country’s late founder, Kim Il Sung. At a massive military parade presided over by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday, the military displayed new ICBMs and other military hardware, CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reported from Pyongyang.

The display included submarine-launched ballistic missiles, believed to be the same type of missile North Korea fired from land in February. The missiles use solid fuel, making them easier to load and harder to detect than liquid fuel rockets.

The parade went on for more than two hours as thousands of North Korean soldiers marched in lockstep through the city’s main square. 

On Friday, a senior North Korean official accused the Trump administration of wanting to “annihilate” his country in an interview with CBS News’ Ben Tracy. He blamed the escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula squarely on the U.S. and South Korea.

There was strong suspicion the North might conduct the test this weekend, a major holiday as the nation marks what would have been the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.

North Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Han Song Ryol told CBS News in Pyongyang on Friday that the situation between the U.S. and North Korea was the worst it had ever been, and if provoked, his country was ready and willing to fight a war. He said North Korea’s nuclear program was non-negotiable.

He said Mr. Trump’s decision to send the navy strike group to the region, as well as a large-scale, ongoing joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise in the area, were deliberate provocations.

“If the U.S. comes up with a dangerous military option, then the first card is in our hands. We’ll deal with it with our pre-emptive strike. This means war,” Han said.

Tracy sought to clarify Han’s remark; “So you are saying if you feel North Korea is going to be attacked, you will use nuclear weapons?”

“Of course,” Han replied.

Even before this nuclear test, North Korea had already conducted four missile launches this year, including tests of more advanced technology and potentially longer-range capability.

The sixth nuclear test will be seen as part of the Kim regime’s quest to build a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Most analysts believe North Korea is still at least several years away from that capacity, but Pyongyang already has weapons that pose a serious threat to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, and U.S. troops based in those countries.

On Thursday, CBS News was there as Kim cut the ribbon to open a large new residential neighborhood in Pyongyang -- a gesture clearly designed to show North Korea can survive further U.S. economic sanctions -- and continue its nuclear program.

Han told CBS News on Friday it was “impossible” for anything to deter North Korea from conducting its sixth nuclear test, which he only said would “take place at a time, at a place that the supreme leadership deems necessary.”

Han told Tracy that North Korea does not want a war, and insisted his government was only responding to U.S. threats.

Asked whether he retains any hope that a peaceful solution can be reached in the escalating crisis, Han suddenly switched to English, and told Tracy, “you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Later on Friday the government of China -- North Korea’s most important trading partner and ally -- warned that, “once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but multiple loss. No one can become a winner.”

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing that China was calling on “all the parties, no matter verbally or in action, to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to allow the situation to become irretrievable and out of control.”

He said China would continue to give its support to any political dialogue to resolve the North Korean standoff, be it “official or unofficial... bilateral or multilateral.”

Mr. Trump has pressured China to wield its economic leverage over North Korea to make the Kim regime stop its nuclear and missile tests, and there have been strong indications that Beijing is in fact cutting key imports from the North.