US, South Korea drill as Tillerson calls for 'global action' on North Korea

Trump administration national security, military and diplomatic officials are holding an unexpected July 4 meeting to discuss what options might be needed if it is determined by the US that North Korea conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test. Photo courtesy CNN

By Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne

(CNN) -- US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly condemned North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile launch, calling it "a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world" in a statement Tuesday.

"Global action is required to stop a global threat," he said. "Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime."

Tillerson also called for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and stated the US "will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea."

The secretary's strong statement marks a striking contrast to when North Korea conducted a test in April and Tillerson said: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

The Pentagon late Tuesday confirmed North Korea's test was an ICBM.

"The launch continues to demonstrate that North Korea poses a threat to the United States and our allies," a Pentagon statement said.

North Korea said the missile flew on a steep trajectory, going 2,800 kilometers (1,741 miles) above the Earth, before splashing down in the Sea of Japan/East Sea 930 kilometers (578 miles) from its launch site.

Analysts said if the missile were fired on a standard, flatter trajectory it would be capable of reaching Alaska.

The US and South Korea also announced they had conducted a joint exercise in response to North Korea's launch. A South Korean statement said the drill which was "intended as a strong warning against North Korean provocation" took place along South Korea's eastern coastline and "showcased precision targeting of the enemy's leadership in case of an emergency."

The drill is a clear signal from the Pentagon that the US and South Korea have no intention of stopping joint military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its missile and nuclear testing, as China and Russia earlier suggested.

Earlier a US official told CNN that the US had "high confidence" that Monday's launch was an ICBM.

The official said analysis suggests a second-stage booster ignited and produced 30 seconds of additional flight

Trump administration national security, military and diplomatic officials gathered for unexpected July 4 meetings to discuss what options might be needed, several administration officials told CNN.

Top officials at the State Department and the Defense Department participated in the meetings. The goal is for President Donald Trump to potentially approve a "measured response," one official told CNN. Nothing has been decided, but that response could include sending additional US military assets such as troops, aircraft and ships to the region. Diplomatic options are also being considered, including more sanctions.

It is likely that the Pentagon will publicly communicate that all missile defense measures aboard Navy ships in the western Pacific and land-based missiles in Alaska are fully ready, as are missile defense systems in South Korea and Japan.

As officials huddled in Washington, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the launch. A tweet from Haley's spokesman, Jonathan Wachtel, stated that she told Liu Jieyi, the Chinese UN ambassador and current president of the Security Council, that she wanted to call the meeting, which will take place Wednesday afternoon in New York.

At this stage the US believes that whatever capability the North Koreans have demonstrated, it does not necessarily mean they can immediately launch a working missile that can reach as far as Alaska. And it's also not clear that the regime has a functioning miniaturized nuclear warhead.

However, US military commanders have long said they plan against a worst-case scenario.

"I know there's some debate about the miniaturization advancements made by Pyongyang," Adm. Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, recently said, "But PACOM must be prepared to fight tonight, so I take him at his word. I must assume his claims are true -- I know his aspirations certainly are."

Defense Secretary James Mattis also recently underscored US military policy when asked by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, "Is it the policy of the Trump administration to deny North Korea the capability of building an ICBM that can hit the American homeland with a nuclear weapon on top?"

Mattis answered simply, "Yes, it is, Sen. Graham."

As CNN has previously reported, US military commanders have updated options for Trump specifically in anticipation of a North Korean ICBM or underground nuclear test.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski, Laura Koran and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.


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