SEOUL, South Korea-- A suspected powerful midrange North Korean missile crashed seconds after liftoff Thursday, South Korea's Defense Ministry said, in what would be the second such embarrassing failure in recent weeks.
South Korea's report of the North's launch failure is particularly humiliating as it comes ahead of a major ruling party meeting next week in Pyongyang, which leader Kim Jong Un is believed to be looking to as a way to put his stamp more forcefully on a government he inherited after his dictator father's death in late 2011.
A Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said the launch was likely the second attempt for the inaugural test of a Musudan, a new, powerful midrange missile that could one day be capable of reaching far-off U.S. military bases in Asia and the Pacific.
The projectile Thursday crashed a few seconds after liftoff.
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The failed launch comes amid Pyongyang's anger over annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that North Korea calls a rehearsal for an invasion. The North has in recent months fired many missiles and artillery shells into the sea in apparent protests against the drills.
Earlier this week, South Korean media reported that North Korea placed a Musudan missile on standby for an impending launch. Media reports said the missile on standby was one of the two Musudan missiles North Korea had earlier deployed in the northeast. One of them reportedly failed after being launched two weeks ago; the other on Thursday.
South Korean and US officials said there was a North Korean missile launch on April 15, the birthday of the North's late founder, but they have not officially confirmed it was a Musudan firing.
U.S. officials said the earlier launch ended in failure.
Speaking to CBS News' Charlie Rose in Germany last week, President Obama said that while it was within the means of the U.S. military to "destroy North Korea," it was too risky a proposition to consider, and he remained focused on defending against any eventual missile threat.
"It's not something that lends itself to an easy solution," Mr. Obama said. "We could obviously destroy North Korea with our arsenals. But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, the Republic of Korea."
Mr. Obama explained how the U.S. has been preparing to fend off threats from the North.
"One of the things that we have been doing is spending a lot more time positioning our missile defense systems, so that even as we try to resolve the underlying problem of nuclear development inside of North Korea, we're also setting up a shield that can at least block the relatively low-level threats that they're posing right now," Mr. Obama said.