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North Korea Fires What Appears To Be Third ICBM Test Of 2017


The Pentagon believes North Korea has tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that has flown higher than any one of its previous tests. Here's reaction from the White House, first from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then from President Trump.


JAMES MATTIS: The bottom line is it's a continued effort to build a threat - a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you, general. And we will take care of that situation.

MCEVERS: Here to tell us more is NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hello.


MCEVERS: What else do we know about this latest test?

MYRE: Well, what's really striking about this particular test is the height that the missile traveled to. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which has a pretty good track record on calculating these things, says it went up about 2,800 miles as part of this lofted trajectory where it's really going up more than out. This is almost a thousand miles further than either of the two previous ICBM tests. It was also in the air for about 54 minutes compared to 47 and 37 for the previous tests.

So if all of these numbers are correct, the scientists say this missile could reach any part of the United States, including the East Coast. Now, the Pentagon's being a little bit more cautious. And this - again, this missile did not go over Japan like some of the previous ones. They haven't estimated the height. But Defense Secretary Mattis did acknowledge this has gone much higher than any of the other tests.

MCEVERS: Hadn't North Korea been fairly quiet for a while? I mean, does this catch anyone by surprise?

MYRE: Yeah, not really by surprise. It just seemed a question of when they were going to start again. North Korea does have a history of going a little bit quiet in the winter months. They hadn't tested since mid-September when they had a missile test - and a nuclear test, for that matter - in September. But it shows they're not backing down. It also showed that North - South Korea was prepared. Less than 10 minutes after the launch, South Korea fired its own much smaller missiles into the sea just to show that they had these pinpoint missiles and were ready to hit back.

MCEVERS: As we just heard President Trump say, we will take care of that situation. What did he mean by that?

MYRE: A little bit vague there, but he didn't specifically threaten a military response. He said nothing has changed in the U.S. approach. And important to note that like we've heard many times before, Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson keep stressing the diplomatic options. Still, the U.S. is stepping up pressure. Let's not forget Trump's recent trip to Asia declaring North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism and these three U.S. aircraft carriers in Northeast Asia. A pretty unusual development and a way to send signals to North Korea.

MCEVERS: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, thanks a lot.

MYRE: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.