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North Korean missile launch fails, US and South Korea say

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A man walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on March 22, 2017. A new North Korean missile test failed on March 22, the South and US said, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on American bases in Japan. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

A North Korean missile fired Wednesday exploded “within seconds of launch,” according to US Pacific Command.

US officials confirmed North Korea had attempted to launch a missile near Kalma, on the country’s east coast, but early reports suggest it failed.

“South Korea and the US are aware of the missile launch and to their knowledge North Korea’s missile was not successfully launched,” South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Neither the US nor South Korea have released information on what type of missile was fired, or why it failed. The US Pacific Command said it was working with partners to assess it further.

The attempted launch comes four days after the country announced it had tested a new rocket engine, describing it as a “great leap forward” in their missile program.

US defense officials told CNN the engine could be used for a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile.

Against the background of the launch, South Korea and the United States continued their annual “Foal Eagle” military exercises, which often provoke retaliation from the North Koreans. The “Foal Eagle” exercises began on March 1 and will end on April 30.

Robert Kelly, associate professor of political science at Pusan National University, told CNN the latest launch was a “signal” to South Korea from their northern neighbor.

“The North Koreans respond to (the drills) almost every year with some kind of outlash or provocation or something like that,” he said. “Missile tests are a nice way to send a signal.”

Second launch in a month

It isn’t the North Korea’s first launch this month — the country fired four intermediate-range ballistic missiles on March 6, which fell into waters off Japan.

Three of them landed less than 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast, antagonizing the South Korean and Japanese governments.

At the time, experts told CNN the rapid series of launches indicated North Korea was speeding up their weapons program, deploying and developing missiles faster.

“They did a launch (in February), they’re now launching more in 30 days. That’s a third of the time they used to need,” Carl Schuster, a professor at Hawaii Pacific University, told CNN at the time.

Kelly said the US was still struggling to find a way to rein in North Korea’s aggressive behavior.

“Ideally we’d find a diplomatic solution, but the North Koreans have to be willing to come around or the Chinese have to twist their arm and that’s what everyone is hoping,” he said.