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N. Korea fires suspected ICBM capable of hitting US East Coast

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- North Korea fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile early Wednesday that experts said may have a longer potential range than any previously launched by the North and could easily reach the East Coast of the U.S. mainland.

The launch came after Washington placed North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism last week as part of efforts to increase pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The Japanese and U.S. governments both said Wednesday's missile appeared to be an ICBM, with the South Korean military further identifying it as a Hwasong-14 type, similarly launched into the Sea of Japan in July.

It is the first launch since Sept. 15, when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan into the Pacific Ocean.

Echoing earlier statements by Cabinet ministers, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the missile flew for 53 minutes after its launch at around 3:18 a.m. Japan time.

It reached a maximum altitude of over 4,000 kilometers and covered a distance of about 1,000 km before landing in the exclusive economic zone around Japanese waters, Abe said in a Diet session.

David Wright of the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said in a statement that if launched on a standard angle instead of its steep "lofted" trajectory, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km, more than enough to reach Washington and "in fact any part of the continental United States."

Abe said he and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in telephone talks within hours of the launch "that Japan and the United States will lead the coordination of the international community to raise pressure on North Korea to the maximum possible extent."

Abe and Trump also reaffirmed the importance of China playing more of a role in reining in North Korea, a senior Japanese government official said. China accounts for about 90 percent of the North's trade and is a major oil supplier to the country.

They shared the view that "the North Korean regime's provocative actions are undermining its security and further isolating it from the international community," according to the White House.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Japan, which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, lodged a protest in "the strongest terms" through its embassy in Beijing and urged the North to change its policies.

The government did not give an order to intercept the missile because it judged there was no possibility that it would land within Japanese territory, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.

Onodera said there are no reports of damage to aircraft or ships in the area where the missile appears to have come down, around 250 km west of Aomori Prefecture on the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu.

South Korea's military said North Korea fired the missile eastward from the vicinity of Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, near the capital Pyongyang.

The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon over the missile launch following a request by Japan, the United States and South Korea, Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi said in New York.

The rotating Security Council presidency will switch from Italy to Japan on Friday.

The Security Council had imposed stricter sanctions on North Korea on Sept. 11, taking aim at its supply of oil and gas for the first time, following the North's sixth and by far largest nuclear test earlier that month.

South Korean President Moon Jae In strongly condemned the latest launch, adding that his government was aware of the latest provocation in advance.

In Russia, a key lawmaker responded to the launch by chiding the United States and South Korea for having provoked North Korea through recent joint military exercises, Russian media reported.

The reports said Leonid Slutsky, head of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, also criticized Pyongyang's behavior as irresponsible.

Although North Korea held off on launches for more than two months in the wake of the stricter U.N. sanctions, speculation was rife that it could resume action following its return to the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list and an exchange of personal insults and threats of war with Trump.

In his speech to the United Nations on Sept. 19, Trump said he is prepared to "totally destroy" North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies. He also mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as "Rocket Man."

Kim responded by issuing a statement saying, "Now that Trump has...insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world...we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history."

North Korean officials subsequently suggested the country could test a powerful hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

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