Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had also cited a pause in testing by the North, saying he was “pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past.” Mr. Tillerson suggested that it could be a “pathway” to dialogue.
Only days later, that optimism seemed premature when the North Koreans launched three short-range missiles on Saturday. Two of them traveled about 155 miles before splashing down, far enough to reach major South Korean and American military bases, including those about 60 miles south of Seoul.
While North Korea has not carried out its threat to fire four of its ballistic missiles toward the coast of Guam — and near an American air base — the missile it fired over Japan on Tuesday appeared to be of the same type: an intermediate-range missile that could target American, South Korean and Japanese bases in northeast Asia.
Only twice before has the North fired projectiles over Japanese territory: once in 1998, prompting a minor diplomatic crisis in Asia, and once again at the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009. In both those cases, the North said the rockets were carrying satellites into orbit. In this case, it made no such claim.
As in the case of the 2009 launch, which was paired with a nuclear weapons test, North Korea appears to be testing a new American president.
Notably, the missile fired on Tuesday took off from near Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. Early reports, which are often corrected later, indicated it was launched from a site near Pyongyang’s international airport, not the usual launch site in the northeast, according to the South Korean military. They said they were still trying to determine what type of missile was launched.
American officials noted that if it was in fact launched from the capital’s outskirts, it may have been meant to complicate recent American threats to hit the North with pre-emptive strikes. That possibility was explicitly raised this month by Trump administration officials, as a way of seeking to deter the North Koreans.
While the North’s usual launch sites are in remote areas, where there would be little concern about civilian casualties, any strike near Pyongyang would risk many civilian deaths and would suggest the real goal was to strike at the…