North Korea fires unidentified projectile, South Korea military says

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SEOUL—North Korea on Monday fired an unidentified projectile off its east coast, South Korea’s military said, in what is likely the latest test-launch of a ballistic missile as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland.

A statement by the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch came from around the eastern North Korean coastal town of Wonsan, but the agency didn’t say what type of projectile was fired or if it was successful. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, without citing a source, said the projectile is believed to be a ballistic missile, but the South Korean military said it was still analyzing what exactly the North launched.

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North Korea is still thought to be several years away from its goal of being able to target U.S. mainland cities with a nuclear ICBM, but each new test puts it closer to success.

The North’s nuclear and missile programs are perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenges to the new leaders in allies Washington and Seoul.

U.S. President Donald Trump has alternated in his public statements between bellicosity and flattery. But his administration is still working to solidify a policy to deal with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

A new liberal president in Seoul, Moon Jae-in, has signalled he will be flexible in expanding civilian exchange with North Korea. But many analysts say Moon won’t likely push for any major rapprochement projects because North Korea has gone too far on its nuclear program.

Besides its regular ballistic missile test-launches, the North carried out two nuclear tests last year — in January and September. Outside analysts believe North Korea may be able to arm some of its shorter-range missiles with nuclear warheads, though the exact state of the North’s secretive weapons program is unknown.

Moon has made tentative steps toward engaging the North by restarting stalled civilian aid and exchange programs as a way to improve strained ties.

South Korea said recently that it will allow a civic group to contact North Korea about potentially offering help in treating malaria, the first government approval on cross-border civilian exchanges since January 2016.