North Korea succeeded in launching a ballistic missile into Japan's exclusive economic zone for the first time on Wednesday, alarming its neighbors in the region and further escalating tensions.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports the launch appeared to be a Rodong-type medium-range missile that flew about 620 miles, and landed in the Sea of Japan within 200 nautical miles of Japan's shoreline, inside its exclusive economic zone.
U.S. Pacific Command confirmed the launch, which included a second missile. "Initial indications reveal one of the missiles exploded immediately after launch, while the second was tracked over North Korea and into the Sea of Japan," the Command said in a statement.
"[The missile launch] poses a serious threat to Japan's security and it is unforgivable act of violence toward Japan's security," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, according to the Associated Press.
North Korea’s top diplomat dealing with U.S. affairs told ABC News the kind of missile launch seen on Wednesday is a direct response to the "constant nuclear blackmails of the United States and to strengthen our nuclear deterrent forces in every way.”
In the first interview given by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry to a U.S. television network in more than a decade, Han Son Ryol — Pyongyang’s top official dealing with the United States —- said the tests were "self defensive actions to cope with the threat from United States."
In the interview with ABC News's Bob Woodruff, Ryol said: "It is the United States who provokes, it is the United States who has conducted that kind of launch many many times. It is the U.S. who threatens DPRK with missiles… All these kinds of actions tell us the U.S. is taking hostile actions against DPRK. Our rocket and missile launches take place because that is the way to defend ourselves.”
In wide-ranging comments, Ryol said the imposition of sanctions on North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un, had "crossed a red line," and he repeated Pyongyang’s claim that it regarded the sanctions as a "declaration of war." Ryol warned that all decisions concerning relations with the U.S. would be dealt with under wartime laws — including the detentions of the two American prisoners currently being held in North Korea, Otto Warmbier and Kim Dong Chul. He would not comment on the conditions under which they were being held, but repeated that the decision to impose sanctions would have consequences for every aspect of U.S.-North Korea relations, with, "no exceptions, and that includes the detained Americans."
Asked about Donald Trump’s comment that he would be "willing" to consider withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea, Ryol said he didn’t know whether Trump said it "to be famous or more popular in the campaign, but what matters is actions." He said North Korea strongly urged the U.S. to withdraw its "aggressive army," but said he doubted whether Trump or any other potential U.S. president would take troops out of South Korea. He warned that, even if the U.S. withdraws its army from South Korea, "as long as the U.S. has hostile policy to DPRK, our nuclear deterrent forces will be strengthened in every way… irrespective of changes around us, our policy of having nuclear weapons will not change… Our nuclear forces are a product of U.S. policy towards the DPRK. This is not an economic bargaining chip. There will be no denuclearization of Korean peninsula on our part."
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.