The missile did not go as far as intended, officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence reports said. It did not reach Japanese waters and may have “pinwheeled in flight,” according to one official.
What's more, the missile was an older SCUD -- not the advanced land version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (KN-15), as first assessed by the U.S. Pacific Command last night, a U.S. defense official confirmed. North Korea launched a KN-15 missile in February -- as President Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida.
A senior administration official told Fox News the launch didn't represent much of a provocation on North Korea's part.
In a 23-word statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear the administration was moving in a new direction: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
U.S. officials have said they hope China will play a larger role in easing tensions in the region. While China opposes the deployment of a U.S. military anti-ballistic missile system to North Korea, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Wednesday called for de-escalation of tensions. "China has noticed such reports, we all know that the Security Council at the United Nations has issued regulations related to the missile launch by North Korea. We think that all sides involved should exercise restraint and not do anything that will escalate the difficult situation in the region."
The Pentagon continues to see signs North Korea is close to conducting another nuclear test, after two tests last year.
The KN-15, known as "Pukguksong-2" in North Korea, uses pre-loaded solid fuel, which shortens launch preparation times, boosts its mobility and makes it harder for outsiders to detect ahead of liftoff. Most North Korean missiles use liquid propellant, which generally must be added to the missile on the launch pad before firing.
The South Korean military said the missile was fired from land near the east coast city of Sinpo and flew about 40 miles.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank in Honolulu, said he was expecting North Korea would do something significant to coincide with President Trump's first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week.
The missile launch may be a precursor, with more to come as the summit starts Thursday, Cossa said. "I've joked before that they don't mind being hated but they definitely hate to be ignored."
Analysts also say North Korea might time nuclear and long-range rocket tests to the April 15 birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea is pushing hard to upgrade its weapons systems to cope with what it calls U.S. hostility. Many weapons experts say the North could have a functioning nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. within a few years. North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year.
The rogue nation's latest missile launch also came during annual military drills between the United States and South Korea. North Korea sees the drills as an invasion rehearsal.
North Korea tests new missile, further enrages Washington
North Korea tested another ballistic missile early Wednesday, swiftly drawing the ire of Washington shortly before President Donald Trump's planned summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Initial reports indicated worries from some experts that North Korea may have tested a new, more dangerous form of missile technology.
"North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an unusually terse statement following the launch.
Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
The remarks by the secretary, who has been increasingly besieged by questions about his approach to the job early in his tenure, were immediately seized upon by some as "incredibly odd."
A senior White House official elaborated, telling CNN: "The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table."
But the comment echoes remarks made by Tillerson last month in Asia, who at the time said "all options" are on the table for the new administration.
A leading North Korean defector warned on Monday that leader Kim Jong Un is "desperate" and prepared to actually use the country's nuclear arsenal against hostile powers, including the U.S. And, without going into detail, Trump told the Financial Times in an interview published Monday the U.S. is prepared to face North Korea alone, if its traditional ally China doesn't do more to solve the proliferation issue.
"What Trump is trying to do is set the bar high," Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, told The Hill. "By saying we're going to take action alone, that doesn't necessarily mean military action. That could mean in theory that we could talk to North Korea alone and cut the Chinese out. ... Or it could be some sort of military action, but the downside of military action is almost unthinkable."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a leading proponent of the use of American force, called the North Korean issue an "immediate problem."
Trump meets with President Xi at Mar-A-Lago starting Thursday, in the what is considered by some to be the most hotly-anticipated bilateral summit of his young presidency.
Rex Tillerson's incredibly odd and confusing statement on North Korea
North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the sea off the Korean Peninsula, the latest in a series of test firings and one that comes just days before President Donald Trump is set to huddle with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit in Florida.
Here's what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, aka the nation's top diplomat, had to say about the latest provocation from North Korea:
"North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
That's a total of 23 words, if you're counting. Twenty-three words that leave you more confused when you get to the end of them than when you started. Is Tillerson trying to talk tough? Or is he refusing to give North Korea the attention he thinks they're trying to grab in advance of the US-China meeting? Somewhere in between? Neither? Both?
The statement reads, to channel Winston Churchill, like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It's Ernest Hemingway but for complicated and delicate matters of foreign policy. It's, in a (hyphenated) word, a head-scratcher.
What we do know is that the Trump administration is taking an increasingly hard line to both North Korea's ongoing efforts to develop nuclear and ballistic weapons programs and China's willingness to constrain those efforts.
"The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table," a senior White House official told reporters Tuesday night in a briefing with reporters ahead of Xi's visit.
That sentiment echoes the President himself, who told the Financial Times in an interview that he was prepared to act to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions with or without China.
"China has great influence over North Korea," Trump said in the interview. "And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't ... If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you."
Viewed through that lens, Tillerson's statement may be best understood as a sort of "the time for talking is over, the time for action is here" sentiment that is in keeping with the tough talk coming from Trump.
But, Tillerson is the country's top diplomat -- the person charged with finding solutions that go beyond simple rhetoric to these thorniest of foreign policy challenges. And his statement -- such as it is -- offers zero guidance as to what the US response will be.
Pyongyang wants Washington's acceptance as a nuclear power -- and to be dismissed in this way will be a blow, noted CNN's Paula Hancocks in Seoul.
And two senior US officials tell CNN's Barbara Starr that the message shouldn't be interpreted as provocative. Instead, they say, it's a signal the State Department will no longer put out routine statements after every North Korean provocation or missile launch.
But vagueness in diplomacy is a dangerous thing. Words matter. Misunderstandings can cause international incidents -- or worse.
How will North Korea and China interpret Tillerson's comments? As a provocation? A dismissal? Something else entirely?
That uncertainty is the point. Tillerson is the leading edge of America foreign policy. As such, his most important job is to ensure that other countries know exactly where the US stands when a major international event -- like the one in North Korea -- occurs. His statement Tuesday night suggests he simply doesn't grasp just how much words matter.