North Korea fired a powerful long-range missile in the direction of Japan early Wednesday.
South Korea's chiefs of staff said the missile was launched toward the East Sea from the vicinity of Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province north of Pyongyang, at 3:17 a.m. The timing of the launch seems to have been arranged to make prime time news in the U.S.
The rocket flew some 960 km and reached a height of 4,500 km, suggesting it was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The U.S. Defense Department said it "detected and tracked a single North Korea missile launch... Initial assessment indicates that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile," according to Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning. He added the missile "did not pose a threat to North America, our territories or our allies."
But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Mattis said the launch was a "development effort" to "continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten anywhere in the world."
The South Korean military immediately staged a precision strike missile exercise in response.
The Japanese government had been on alert for days after detecting signs of the impending launch, according to Kyodo News.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed the launch as a "violent act" that "can never be tolerated" and called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
The missile came down in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone but not territorial waters. It was the first North Korean provocation in over two months and follows the U.S.' decision to put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
A South Korean surface-to-surface missile is being fired in a live-fire exercise near the eastern sea border with North Korea on Wednesday. /Yonhap