North Korea attempted and failed to launch what experts believe was an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Friday in defiance of U.N. sanctions and in an embarrassing setback for leader Kim Jong Un, drawing criticism from major ally China.
The U.S. Defense Department called the test of the road-mobile missile, which came as North Korea celebrated the birthday of Kim’s grandfather and North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung, a “fiery, catastrophic” failure.
The test, on North Korea’s so-called “Day of the Sun,” followed its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February, which led to new U.N. sanctions that have failed to halt Pyongyang’s weapons programs.
South Korean officials and international experts said the failed test heightened the possibility that North Korea would conduct a fifth nuclear test, possibly within weeks.
The U.S.-based 38 North website, which specializes in North Korea, said there has been activity at the country’s nuclear site based on satellite imagery and on Wednesday said the possibility of a fifth nuclear test “could not be ruled out.”
U.S. officials said the missile tested on Friday never got off the launch pad but further tests were expected.
“We’re still assessing the specifics of it but I can tell you that it was a fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told a briefing. “It was not successful.”
Davis said the U.S. military thought the device was a road-mobile missile because the launch occurred at a coastal site where Pyongyang ordinarily does not test rockets.
He said North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and the United States and often fires missiles during periods of tension, remained a security concern in spite of the failure.