Another Missile Launch from North Korea

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • North Korea Fires Unidentified Projectile, Report Suggests
  • According to the Yonhap news agency, citing the South Korean military, Pyongyang fired an unidentified projectile
  • The projectile was launched off the east coast of North Korea toward the Sea of Japan.
  • The Japanese Border Guard has suggested the projectile could be a ballistic missile.
  • The coast guard also issued a warning urging vessels currently at sea to be careful and stay away from the object if it falls into the water.

Read the original article by clicking here

Recording shows Iran knew immediately it had shot down plane: Zelenskiy

By Natalia Zinets and Babak Dehghanpisheh

KIEV/DUBAI (Reuters) – A leaked audio recording of an Iranian pilot talking to the control tower in Tehran shows that Iran knew immediately it had shot down a Ukrainian airliner last month, despite denying it for days, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

On the recording, played on a Ukrainian television station late on Sunday, the pilot of another plane can be heard saying he saw “the light of a missile” in the sky before Ukrainian International Airways flight 752 crashed in an explosion.

Tehran blamed the Ukrainian authorities for leaking what it described as confidential evidence, and said it would no longer share material with Ukraine from the investigation into the crash.

All 176 people aboard the flight were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff en route from Tehran to Kiev on Jan. 8.

The leaked audio “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane had been hit by a missile,” Zelenskiy said in a television interview.

“He says that ‘it seems to me that a missile is flying’, he says it in both Persian and English, everything is fixed there,” Zelenskiy said.

After denying blame for three days, Iran acknowledged shooting the plane down, saying it had done so by mistake while under high alert, hours after it had fired at U.S. targets in retaliation for a U.S. strike that killed an Iranian general.

Iran has said it worked as quickly as possible to determine what happened to the plane. The Iranian commander who first acknowledged the plane had been shot down said he informed the authorities on the day of the crash.

Iran has faced pressure from Ukraine and other countries whose citizens were on board the flight to send evidence abroad for international investigations.

The Iranian official in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization called it a “strange move” by Ukraine to release the confidential recording.

“This action by the Ukrainians led to us not sharing any more evidence with them,” the official, Hassan Rezaifar said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.

In the recording, a pilot for Aseman, an Iranian airline, can be heard radioing the control tower that he has seen what he believes is a missile.

“Is this an active area? There’s lights like a missile. Is there anything?” the pilot says.

“Nothing has been reported to us. What’s the light like?” the controller replies. The pilot says: “It’s the light of a missile.”

The control tower can be heard trying and failing to raise the Ukrainian airliner on the radio. The pilot of the Iranian plane then says he has seen “an explosion. In a very big way, we saw it. I really don’t know what it was.”

Ukraine International Airways said in a statement the recording provided “yet more proof that the UIA airplane was shot down with a missile, and there were no restrictions or warnings from dispatchers of any risk to flights of civilian aircraft in the vicinity of the airport.”

Rezaifar, the Iranian aviation official, said in the Mehr report that the Ukraine investigation team, as well as all other foreigners involved in the investigation, have left Iran.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, Natlia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by William Maclean)

Iran investigation says airliner caught fire before crash, Ukraine outlines theories

By Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Natalia Zinets

DUBAI/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine outlined four potential scenarios on Thursday to explain the deadly crash of one of its airliners in Iran, including a missile strike and terrorism, as Iranian investigators said the plane was on fire before it fell to the ground.

Kiev said its investigators wanted to search the site of Wednesday’s crash southwest of Tehran for possible debris of a Russian-made missile used by Iran’s military. An initial report by Iran’s civil aviation organization said the plane had experienced an unspecified technical problem.

The Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800, flying to Kiev and carrying mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, killing all 176 people on board.

The Iranian report cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

It said the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem shortly after take-off and started to head toward a nearby airport before it crashed. The report said there was no radio communication from the pilot and that the aircraft disappeared from radar at 8,000 feet (2,440 m).

It is so far unclear if any technical issue could be related to a maintenance fault or defective part.

The disaster puts a renewed spotlight on Boeing, which faces a safety crisis over a different type of 737, though the plane that crashed in Iran does not have the feature thought to have caused crashes of the grounded 737 MAX.

The Iranian report referred to the crash as an accident.

Investigations into airliner crashes are complex, requiring regulators, experts and companies across several international jurisdictions to work together. It can take months to fully determine the cause and issuing an initial report within 24 hours is rare.

A Canadian security source told Reuters there was evidence one of the engines had overheated.

The crash happened hours after Iran launched missile attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, leading some to speculate that the plane may have been hit.

The initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile, five security sources – three Americans, one European and the Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

UKRAINIAN THEORIES

Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov said the country’s investigators wanted to search for possible Russian missile debris after seeing information on the internet.

He referred to an unverified image circulated on Iranian social media purportedly showing the debris of a Russian-made Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile of the kind used by the Iranian military.

Ukrainian investigators into the crash include experts who participated in the investigation into the 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Danylov said.

The Malaysian airliner was shot down on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

In a televised statement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier asked people to refrain from speculation, conspiracy theories and hasty evaluations regarding the crash. He declared Thursday a day of national mourning.

Zelenskiy said he would speak by telephone with the Iranian president to step up cooperation in investigating the crash.

Ukraine is looking at various possible causes, including a missile attack, a collision, an engine explosion or terrorism.

Countries recognized under a UN-administered convention as participants should nominate who they wish to be involved in the Iran-led investigation, the Iranian report said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called his Iranian counterpart to stress the need for Canadian officials “to be quickly granted access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash”, a Canadian statement said.

“Canada and Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered.”

Zelenskiy, in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, invited Britain to join the investigation, Zelenskiy’s office said.

“Boris Johnson supported this idea and stressed that the best British experts should be involved in finding out all the circumstances of the tragedy,” it said.

As the country where the plane was designed and built, the United States would usually be allowed to be accredited but neither side has said whether U.S. investigators will be dispatched to Iran.

Iran’s aviation body could not be reached for comment to clarify its position.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen with the United States’ killing of a top Iranian general on Friday. Tehran retaliated with a missile strike on U.S. targets in Iraq.

The Ukrainian airliner took off at 6:12 a.m. local time and was given permission to climb to 26,000 feet, the report said. It crashed six minutes later near the town of Sabashahr.

Bodies and body parts recovered from the site of the crash have been taken to the coroner’s office for identification, the report said.

Smouldering debris, including shoes and clothes, was strewn across a field where the plane crashed on Wednesday. Rescue workers in face masks laid out scores of body bags.

Onboard were 146 Iranians, 10 Afghans, 11 Ukrainians, five Canadians and four Swedes, the report said, but said some may have held citizenship of other countries.

Ukrainian authorities have said those on board included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians.

The Tehran-Toronto via Kiev route was a popular for Canadians of Iranian descent visiting Iran in the absence of direct flights.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell & Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Natalia Zinets & Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Laurence Frost in Paris, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Mark Hosenball in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Alexander Cornwell, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)

Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of flight MH17

Dutch police officer Wilbert Paulissen, head of the National Crime Squad, is pictured next to a damaged missile as he presents interim results in the ongoing investigation of the 2014 MH17 crash that killed 298 people over eastern Ukraine, during a news conference by members of the Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, in Bunnik, Netherlands, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Anthony Deutsch

BUNNIK, Netherlands (Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors identified a Russian military unit on Thursday as the source of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 296 people on board.

The airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a Russian-made “Buk” anti-aircraft missile on July 17, 2014 over territory held by pro-Russian separatists. There were no survivors. Two thirds of those killed were Dutch.

“The Buk that was used came from the Russian army, the 53rd brigade,” Chief Dutch Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told Reuters. “We know that was used, but the people in charge of this Buk, we don’t know.”

Investigators appealed to the public to come forward and help identify members of the crew who operated the missile and determine how high up the chain of command the order originated.

FILE PHOTO: The reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which crashed over Ukraine in July 2014 is seen in Gilze Rijen, Netherlands, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which crashed over Ukraine in July 2014 is seen in Gilze Rijen, Netherlands, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

“The Russian Federation didn’t help us in providing us the information we brought out into the open today,” Westerbeke said. “They didn’t give us this information, although a Buk from their military forces was used.”

Russia repeated on Thursday that it had nothing to do with the incident.

“Not a single air defense missile launcher of the Russian Armed Forces has ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying in a statement.

Prosecutors showed photos and videos of a truck convoy carrying the system as it crossed the border from Russia to Ukraine. It crossed back several days later with one missile missing. The vehicles had serial numbers and other markings that were unique to the 53rd brigade, an anti-aircraft unit based in the western Russian city of Kursk, they said.

In the interim update on their investigation, prosecutors said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.

Westerbeke said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments, but that when they do he expects cooperation, or a firm international political response.

Numbers are seen on a damaged missile displayed during a news conference by members of the Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine who present interim results in the ongoing investigation of the 2014 MH17 crash that killed 298 people over eastern Ukraine, in Bunnik, Netherlands, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Numbers are seen on a damaged missile displayed during a news conference by members of the Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine who present interim results in the ongoing investigation of the 2014 MH17 crash that killed 298 people over eastern Ukraine, in Bunnik, Netherlands, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

HOLD RUSSIA ACCOUNTABLE

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cut short a trip to India to return in time for a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the latest findings in the inquiry.

The MH17 Disaster Foundation representing families of the victims demanded that the Dutch government take legal action to hold the Russian state accountable.

“It must go beyond legal exploration after this,” board member Piet Ploeg was quoted by the NOS broadcaster as saying.

A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.

Ukrainian Army General Vasyl Hrytsak, a member of the investigation team, told Reuters the next crucial step would be to pinpoint who issued the orders to move the missile system.

The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

Days after Hawaii alert gaffe, Japan issues false alarm about a missile launch

Japan's public broadcaster NHK's false alarm about a North Korean missile launch which was received on a smart phone is pictured in Tokyo, Japan January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese public broadcaster NHK issued a false alarm about a North Korean missile launch on Tuesday, just days after a similar gaffe caused panic in Hawaii, but it managed to correct the error within minutes.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the mistake.

“We are still checking,” an NHK spokesman said.

NHK’s 6.55 p.m. alert said: “North Korea appears to have launched a missile … The government urges people to take shelter inside buildings or underground.”

The same alert was sent to mobile phone users of NHK’s online news distribution service.

In five minutes, the broadcaster put out another message correcting itself.

Regional tension soared after North Korea in September conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test and in November said it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the U.S. mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy Japan and the United States.

There were no immediate reports of panic or other disruption following the Japanese report.

Human error and a lack of fail-safe measures during a civil defense warning drill led to the false missile alert that stirred panic across Hawaii, a state emergency management agency spokesman said.

Elaborating on the origins of Saturday’s false alarm, which went uncorrected for nearly 40 minutes, spokesman Richard Rapoza said the employee who mistakenly sent the missile alert had been “temporarily reassigned” to other duties.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Nick Macfie)

North Korea details plan to fire missiles over Japan, near Guam

A view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS

By Christine Kim and Martin Petty

SEOUL/GUAM (Reuters) – North Korea said on Thursday it was completing plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam in an unusually detailed threat that further heightened tensions with the United States.

North Korea’s army will complete the plans in mid-August, when they will be ready for leader Kim Jong Un’s order, state-run KCNA news agency reported, citing General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army. The plans called for the missiles to land in the sea only 30-40 km (18-25 miles) from Guam.

The reclusive communist country, technically still at war with the United States and South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty, is known for making bellicose threats.

But experts in the United States and South Korea said North Korea’s plans ratcheted up risks significantly, since Washington was likely to view any missile aimed at its territory as a provocation, even if launched as a test. North Korea has carried out a series of missile and nuclear bomb tests in defiance of the international community.

North Korea announced the plans following U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday that any threats by Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” remarks that KCNA called “a load of nonsense.”

North Korea’s apparently rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland has fueled tensions that erupted into a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang this week, unnerving regional powers and global investors.

World stocks fell for a third day, with shares in Seoul slumping to a seven-week low.

The rising tensions between North Korea and the United States — the biggest foreign policy crisis Trump has faced in his six-month-old presidency — spurred a broad market sell-off in U.S. stocks. By midday, the benchmark S&P 500 stock index <.SPX> fell 1 percent. The index has had just two days so far this year where it has closed with losses of more than 1 percent.

If Pyongyang carries out its threat and launches missiles toward Guam, it would represent an unprecedented milestone in the already fraught relations between the United States and North Korea.

As announced by North Korea, which added detail to a plan first unveiled on Wednesday, the planned path of the missiles would cross some of the world’s busiest sea and air traffic routes.

Guam, a tropical island more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. air base, Navy installation that includes a submarine squadron, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 U.S. military service members.

“The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA (Korean People’s Army) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,” the North Korean report said. “They will fly 3,356.7 km (2,085.8 miles) for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam.” The report did not mention any threat of the use of nuclear missiles near Guam.

“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” KCNA said of Trump.

Speaking to reporters in to New Jersey, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that “certainly nothing has changed in the president’s thinking” on North Korea given the latest developments. The White House said Trump would receive a security briefing later in the day.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican voice on foreign policy, said that based on his conversations with Trump he believes the president would be willing to launch a pre-emptive strike to prevent Pyongyang from launching a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland.

“If negotiations fail, he is willing to abandon ‘strategic patience’ and use pre-emption,” Graham said of Trump during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think he’s there mentally. He has told me this.”

“So I’m 100 percent confident that if President Trump had to use military force to deny the North Koreans the capability to strike America with a nuclear-tipped missile, he would do that,” Graham added.

Korea expert and former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said announcing a specific target was unusual for North Korea, although it had previously mentioned targeting specific South Korean military facilities.

“We’ve seen them talk in specific terms before, just not something as sensitive … as an American military base,” Carlin said.

For an interactive graphic on North Korea’s missile capabilities – http://tmsnrt.rs/2t6WEPL

Graphic on North Korean missile trajectories – http://tmsnrt.rs/2vLMdVm

‘ENJOY THE BEACHES’

Visitors and residents on Guam appeared to be taking things in their stride. The main beach front on the island was packed with tourists dozing under trees or on the sun loungers of five-star hotels lined up before a calm sea.

Governor Eddie Calvo said Guam had experienced a Japanese invasion in World War Two and countless earthquakes and super-typhoons, and there was no U.S. community better prepared to meet the North Korean threat.

“We are concerned about these threats but at the same time we also want to make sure people don’t panic and go on with their lives. Enjoy the beaches,” Calvo said.

Major airlines that fly over the region said they had so far made no plans to change flight paths.

The U.S. Seventh Fleet currently has six Aegis ballistic missile defense ships in the region capable of targeting North Korean missiles, and Japan has a further four. Guam also has a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, similar to one recently installed in South Korea.

Japan could legally intercept a North Korean missile headed towards Guam, its defense minister said on Thursday, but experts believe Japan does not currently have the capability to do so.

Angered as the United States and its allies ignore Chinese calls to calm tensions over North Korea, and distracted by domestic concerns, China is largely sitting out the crisis.

Tension in the region has risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests last year and the intercontinental missile tests, all in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Trump has said he will not allow Pyongyang to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States.

Washington has warned it is ready to use force if needed to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs but that it prefers global diplomatic action. The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Bases in New York, David Brunnstrom in Washington, Soyoung Kim in Seoul, William Mallard, Tim Kelly, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing, Jamie Freed in Singapore and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Will Dunham; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell)

U.S. missile hits test target as North Korea tension rises

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is seen in Seongju, South Korea, June 13, 2017. Picture taken on June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile similar the ones being developed by countries like North Korea, in a new test of the nation’s defenses.

Planned months ago, the U.S. missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean has gained significance after North Korea’s July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang.

The test was the first-ever of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said the IRBM was designed to behave similarly to the kinds of missiles that could threaten the United States.

“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.

The United States has deployed THAAD to Guam and South Korea to help guard against threats from North Korea. A ground-based missile defense system, THAAD is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

In the latest test, a THAAD in Kodiak, Alaska, intercepted a ballistic missile target that was air-launched from a C-17 aircraft flying north of Hawaii, the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.

This success leaves THAAD with a 100 percent track record for all 14 intercept attempts since flight testing began just over a decade ago.

Lockheed Martin Corp <LMT.N>, the prime contractor for the THAAD system, said it could intercept incoming missiles both inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

The United States deployed THAAD to South Korea this year to guard against North Korea’s shorter-range missiles. That has drawn fierce criticism from China, which says the system’s powerful radar can probe deep into its territory.

Earlier this month Moscow and Beijing, in a joint statement, called on Washington to immediately halt deployment of THAAD in South Korea.

The statement said Washington was using North Korea as a pretext to expand its military infrastructure in Asia and risked upsetting the strategic balance of power in the region.

THAAD’s success rate in testing is far higher than the one for America’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which is designed to shoot down an ICBM headed for the U.S. mainland.

That GMD system has only a 55 percent success rate over the life of the program. But advocates say the technology has improved dramatically in recent years.

The GMD system successfully shot down an incoming, simulated North Korean ICBM in a test in May.

That led the Pentagon to upgrade its assessment of the United States’ ability to defend against a small number of ICBMs, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

The Missile Defense Agency told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to U.S. Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.

(Writing by Susan Heavey and Phil Stewart; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Von Ahn)

Russia warns of serious consequences from U.S. strike in Syria

President Trump meeting with his National Security team and being briefed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford via secure video after a missile strike on Syria while inside the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that this image has been digitally edited for security purposes.

By Steve Holland, Andrew Osborn and Tom Perry

PALM BEACH, Fla./MOSCOW/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Russia warned on Friday that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base could have “extremely serious” consequences, as President Donald Trump’s first major foray into a foreign conflict opened up a rift between Moscow and Washington.

The U.S. military launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles from the USS Porter and USS Ross warships in the Mediterranean Sea that hit the airstrip, aircraft and fuel stations of the Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was used to store chemical weapons.

It was Trump’s biggest foreign policy decision since taking office in January and the kind of direct intervention in Syria’s six-year-old civil war that his predecessor Barack Obama avoided.

The American strikes were in reaction to what Washington says was a poison gas attack by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad this week that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory.

The U.S. action catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has military advisers on the ground aiding its close ally Assad.

“We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the U.S. strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military.

Moscow said it had suspended communication with U.S. forces designed to stop planes colliding over Syria, where U.S. jets frequently bomb Islamic States militants. But senior U.S. military officials told Pentagon reporters that Russia has not suspended the military communications channel.

U.S. officials informed Russian forces ahead of the missile strikes, and avoided hitting Russian personnel.

Satellite imagery suggests the Shayrat air base is home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.

Trump has frequently called for improved relations with Russia which were strained under Obama over Syria, Ukraine and other issues, but the U.S. president said action had to be taken against Assad.

“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said as he announced the attack on Thursday night from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” he said, adding: “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

ASSAD ‘ON NOTICE’

A wide range of U.S. allies from Asia, Europe and the Middle East expressed support, if sometimes cautiously, for the strikes.

Assad has been “put on notice” by the U.S. action, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the Security Council, terming it a “proportionate response to unspeakable acts.”

U.S. officials said the military intervention was a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks, and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war.

The action is likely to be interpreted as a signal to Russia, as well as to countries such as North Korea, China and Iran where Trump has faced foreign policy tests early in his presidency, that he is willing to use force.

Assad’s office said Damascus would respond by striking its enemies harder.

The Syrian government and Moscow denied Syrian forces were behind the gas attack but Western countries dismissed their explanation that chemicals leaked from a rebel weapons depot after an air strike.

The Syrian army said the U.S. attack killed six people and called it “blatant aggression” which made the United States a partner of “terrorist groups” including Islamic State. There was no independent confirmation of civilian casualties.

U.S. lawmakers from both parties on Friday backed Trump’s action but demanded he spell out a broader strategy for dealing with the conflict and consult with Congress on any further action.

A Russian frigate carrying cruise missiles sailed through the Bosphorus Strait into the Mediterranean Sea, although there was no indication it was in response to the U.S. action.

Russia expects U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to explain Washington’s stance in light of the missile strikes

when he visits Moscow in the coming week, Interfax news agency cited a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying.

Washington has long backed rebels fighting Assad in a multi-sided civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and driven half of Syrians from their homes since 2011.

The United States has conducted air strikes against Islamic State militants who control territory in eastern and northern Syria, and a small number of U.S. troops are on the ground assisting anti-Islamic State militias.

Russia joined the war on Assad’s behalf in 2015, turning the momentum of the conflict in his favor. Although they support opposing sides in the war between Assad and rebels, Washington and Moscow say they share a single main enemy, Islamic State.

Tuesday’s attack was the first time since 2013 that Syria was accused of using sarin, a banned nerve agent it was meant to have given up under a Russian-brokered, U.N.-enforced deal that persuaded Obama to call off air strikes four years ago.

Video depicted limp bodies and children choking while rescuers tried to wash off the poison gas. Russian state television blamed rebels and did not show footage of victims.

The U.S. strikes cheered Assad’s enemies, after months when Western powers appeared to grow increasingly resigned to his staying in power. But opposition figures said an isolated assault was far from the decisive intervention they seek.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Yara Bayoumy, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Lesley Wroughton, Patricia Zengerle, Roberta Rampton, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Megan Davies in New York and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff and Alistair Bell; Editing by Giles Elgood and James Dalgleish)

U.S. strikes not seen as gamechanger by Arab political analyists in complex Syrian conflict

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations against Syria while in the Mediterranean Sea.

By Katie Paul and Asma Alsharif

RIYADH/CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. strikes on Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack marked a sharp escalation in the country’s civil war but were not viewed in the Arab world as a gamechanger in a six-year conflict that has divided the region.

Two U.S. warships fired cruise missiles at a Syrian air base controlled by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces early on Friday in response to the poison gas attack which killed at least 70 people in a rebel-held area.

U.S. officials said the strike was a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks, and not part of a wider expansion of the U.S. role in the war.

The reactions were predictable from Damascus’ ally Iran and foe Saudi Arabia, two regional powers waging proxy wars in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia hailed the strike as a “courageous decision” by President Donald Trump, and Saudi ally the UAE, a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamist militants in Syria, also expressed its support.

Iran denounced the “unilateral strikes”.

“Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria … and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region,” the Students News Agency ISNA quoted foreign ministry spokesman Bahrem Qasemi as saying.

It was the toughest direct U.S. action yet in Syria, but Arab political analysts were skeptical it would make much difference in the direction of the conflict in Syria or in efforts to find a political solution.

It did, however, indicate how far Trump was willing to go, possibly with his domestic audience in mind, even if it risked contradicting previous positions as well as confrontation with Assad’s other main military backer, Russia.

Trump had repeatedly said he wanted better relations with Moscow, including to cooperate with Russia to fight Islamic State, and has so far focused his Syria policy almost exclusively on that effort.

But he also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for setting a “red line” threatening force against Assad if he used chemical weapons, only to pull back from ordering air strikes in 2013 when Assad agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the missile strikes as an illegal move that would hurt U.S.-Russia ties.

“This kind of strike will not bring down the Syrian regime,” said Abdulaziz al-Sager, a Saudi academic and chairman of the Jeddah-based Gulf Research Center.

“But it shows a new attitude from the U.S. administration in the region which is to take initiatives individually if needed.”

Over the past few months, many Western countries have been backing away from long-standing demands that Assad leave power, accepting that rebels no longer had the power to remove him by force. After the chemical weapons attack on Tuesday, however, several countries said Assad must go.

Among the countries strongly backing the strikes and calling for Assad to be removed from power was Turkey. Long one of Assad’s principal foes, Turkey had in recent months reached a rapprochement with Russia and had been co-sponsoring Syrian peace talks with Moscow.

Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, professor of political science at Cairo University, doubted that the attacks would undermine these kinds of efforts.

“I don’t consider this a change in the United States policy toward Syria but rather a limited strike, which Trump probably aimed to use in order to strengthen his position inside the United States,” he said.

Iraq has been put in the difficult position of balancing its interests between its two key allies, the United States and Iran. Officials have so far maintained silence on the strikes.

“The Iraqi side will not rush into a reaction that could backfire,” said Baghdad-based analyst Fadhel Abu Ragheef.

On the streets of the Iraqi capital, Trump’s actions were seen as just another sign that the United States wants to dominate the Middle East.

“He (Trump) wants to isolate Iran and build American military bases in Iraq,” said Qassim, a shopkeeper, giving only his first name.

(Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Maher Chmaytelli in Erbil, Maher Nazeh in Baghdad, Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

North Korea test-fires missile into sea ahead of Trump-Xi summit

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

By Ju-min Park and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, ahead of a summit between U.S. and Chinese leaders who are set to discuss Pyongyang’s increasingly defiant arms program.

The missile flew about 60 km (40 miles) from its launch site at Sinpo, a port city on North Korea’s east coast, the South Korean Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. Sinpo is home to a North Korean submarine base.

The launch comes just a day before the start of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where talks about adding pressure on the North to drop its arms development will take center stage.

“The launch took place possibly in consideration of the U.S. -China summit, while at the same time it was to check its missile capability,” a South Korean official told Reuters about the military’s initial assessment of the launch.

The missile was fired at a high angle and reached an altitude of 189 km (117 miles), the official said.

Any launch of objects using ballistic missile technology is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The North has defied the ban, saying it infringes on its sovereign rights to self-defense and the pursuit of space exploration.

The launch drew swift condemnation from Japan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying further provocative action was possible.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described the launch as “extremely problematic” and said Tokyo had lodged a strong protest.

South Korea’s foreign ministry also condemned the launch as a blunt challenge to a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions targeting North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. Seoul called a National Security Council meeting and vowed to respond strongly in case of further provocations.

In a terse statement, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

Trump wants China to do more to exert its economic influence over unpredictable Pyongyang to restrain its nuclear and missile programs.

China has denied it has any outsized influence on Pyongyang and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying ruled out the chance of a link between the launch and the summit, saying, “I can’t see any certain connection between these two things.”

Ahead of the U.S.-China summit in Florida, Trump had threatened to use crucial trade ties with China to pressure Beijing into more action on North Korea.

A senior U.S. White House official said Trump wanted to work with China and described the discussions over North Korea as a test for the U.S.-Chinese relationship.

ICBM THREAT

North Korea could choose to continue with missile-related activities through next week, when the isolated and impoverished country celebrates the 105th anniversary of the birth of the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

It has used the anniversary in previous years to test-fire the intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile and to launch long-range rockets to try to put satellites into orbit.

An expert on the North’s political strategy warned against reading too much political significance into the timing of the tests ahead of the U.S-China summit.

“They may have taken the summit into account to pick a day but, to me, it is more likely to catch up with its own missile development roadmap for their technical needs,” said Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

North Korea failed in an attempt to launch a ballistic missile from its east coast two weeks ago. Earlier in March, it fired four missiles towards Japan, some of which came as close as 300 km (190 miles) to the Japanese coast.

It has also conducted two nuclear weapons tests since January 2016, all in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries said initial assessments indicated the latest launch was of a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile, which would be the same kind North Korea test-launched in February.

Pyongyang tested a new type of medium- to long-range ballistic missile in February, which it later said was an upgraded, extended-range version of its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

North Korea has carried out several SLBM tests near Sinpo.

“While it is entirely possible it was the land-based KN-15, it very well could have been a test of their SLBM system that was conducted on land,” said Dave Schmerler, an expert at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The North is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the United States and its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to test-launch one at any time.

Experts and officials in the South and the United States believe Pyongyang is still some time away from mastering all the technology needed for an operational ICBM system, such as re-entry into the atmosphere and subsequent missile guidance.

– For a graphic on ‘North Korea’s missile launch’ click : https://tinyurl.com/mb6ennc

– For a graphic on ‘Nuclear North Korea’ click : https://tinyurl.com/mpxs45r

(Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul, Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)