North Korea fires missile days after vowing to strike “heart” of U.S.

July 28, 2017, 2:08pm

UPDATED: 4:25 p.m. EST to include latest comments from the Pentagon.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile in the dead of night Friday that landed in the waters off the coast of Japan, days after a Pentagon report revealed Pyongyang’s missile capability is way ahead of schedule. Friday’s test was the 14th missile launch this year and the second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month.

The U.S. and South Korea discussed “military response options” after the launch in a call between their top military officials, the Pentagon said in a statement. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the U.S. expressed its “ironclad” commitment to defending allies, including South Korea and Japan, from “any attack or provocation.”

U.S. officials first detected the ballistic missile launch shortly after it was fired around 10:45 a.m. EST, the Pentagon confirmed to VICE News. The missile traveled about 1,000 km and was launched from Mupyong-ni in North Korea, before landing in the Sea of Japan.

Pyongyang’s latest missile launch has already stirred alarm among experts. Analysts who reviewed the initial data estimated the ICBM could “easily reach” the west coast of the U.S. and several other major U.S. cities.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile was in the air for about 45 minutes and that it had landed in waters off the Japanese coast. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for an emergency meeting of his country’s National Security Council, according to Reuters, as has South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“As a result of their launches of ICBM-level missiles, this clearly shows the threat to our nation’s safety is severe and real,” Abe said.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang vowed to strike at the “heart” of the United States.

“If enemies misunderstand our strategic status and stick to options of staging a preemptive nuclear attack against us,” said Pak Yong Sik, North Korea’s defense minister, “we will launch a nuclear attack on America’s heart as the most relentless punishment without warning or prior notice.”

To the surprise of U.S officials and experts, the North Korean military successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in early July. It was the longest range missile that North Korea has tested and the first weapon that could realistically reach Alaska or Hawaii, analysts say.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency revised its forecast concerning North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities Tuesday, concluding Pyongyang’s program was far ahead of schedule, and could have a “reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM” as early as 2018.