SEOUL, South Korea — Nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, South Korea’s military and the Japanese government said, in a major escalation by Pyongyang amid tensions over its weapons ambitions.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was “unprecedented” and called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting.
The missile fell into the Pacific Ocean off Hokkaido, the Japanese government said.
No North Korean missile had overflown Japan for years, and the launch came after a strained period on the peninsula following Pyongyang’s testing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that appeared to bring much of the US mainland within reach.
It threatened to fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam, while US President Donald Trump issued an apocalyptic warning of raining “fire and fury” on the North, saying Washington’s weapons were “locked and loaded.”
The United Nations Security Council imposed a seventh set of sanctions on the North, tightening restrictions on its exports, and investments into the country.
Tensions had eased more recently, but the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that Tuesday’s missile was launched at around 5:57 Seoul time from Sunan, near Pyongyang, and traveled east “and over Japan.”
It traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) at a maximum altitude of around 550 kilometers, it said, adding South Korea and the US were “closely analyzing for more details.”
“Our military has bolstered deterrence against additional provocations by the North Korean military and is closely monitoring related movements with full military readiness.”
Japan’s Abe vowed to enhance pressure on Pyongyang.
“Their outrageous act of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat and greatly damages regional peace and security,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
“We have protested to North Korea.”
Japan’s chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said the missile posed a “serious, grave security threat” to Japan.
Urging an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Abe said Japan would “strongly call for increased pressure on North Korea in cooperation with the international community.”
He said the government would take “full steps” to ensure the safety of the Japanese people.
South Korea said it called a meeting of its National Security Council.
The firing comes days after Pyongyang launched three short-range missiles in what analysts said was seen as a minimal provocation after the start of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian South Korean-US joint military exercise, which the North sees as rehearsals for invasion.
It says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself.
But Tuesday’s flight path represents a significant escalation by Pyongyang.
When it carried out its ICBM tests last month — which leader Kim Jong-Un described as a “gift” to “American bastards” — it fired them on lofted trajectories that avoided travelling over Japan.
But any launch towards Guam would have to pass over the Asian island nation. Guam is around 3,500 kilometers from North Korea.
Japan has in the past vowed to shoot down North Korean missiles or rockets that threaten to hit its territory, and deployed its Patriot missile defense system in response to the Guam threat, reports and officials said, with an Aegis destroyer also stationed in the Sea of Japan.
In 2009, a North Korean rocket passed over Japanese territory without incident, triggering Japan’s immediate denouncement.
At the time North Korea said it was launching a telecommunications satellite, but Washington, Seoul and Tokyo believed Pyongyang was testing an ICBM.