A North Korean missile test was conducted off the country’s east coast on April 15.
However, the launch appears to have failed, the US and South Korean officials say.
The rocket has not yet been identified but is suspected to have been a previously untested “Musudan” medium-range ballistic missile.
The launch coincided with the birthday of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung.
It also comes amid particularly high tension on the Korean peninsula.
South Korea’s Yonhap national news agency quoted government sources as saying that the missile was a type of intermediate-range ballistic missile known as a Musudan, also called the BM-25.
North Korean forces were seen recently moving two such missiles.
According to the Yonhap report , it would be North Korea’s first Musudan test, and that it may have at least 50 more.
The Musudan is named after the village in North Korea’s northeast where a launch pad is sited.
The rocket has a range of about 1,800 miles, which extends to the US Army base on the Pacific island of Guam, but not as far as the mainland US.
The US said it had tracked the latest launch, but could also not confirm details.
“We call again on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” a State Department official said.
China also criticized what it called “the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.
North Korea has made a series of threats against the South and the US since the UN imposed some of its toughest ever sanctions on the country.
The move was a response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and its launching of a satellite in February, both of which broke existing sanctions.
Fresh sanctions have been imposed on Iranian companies and individuals by the US over a recent ballistic missile test.
The new sanctions prevent 11 entities and individuals linked to the missile program from using the US banking system.
The move came after international nuclear sanctions on Iran were lifted as part of a deal hailed by President Barack Obama on January 17 as “smart”.
Four American-Iranians were also freed in a prisoner swap as part of the deal.
Among them was Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian – whom President Barack Obama described as “courageous”. A fifth American was freed separately.
Jason Rezaian and two of the others freed flew to a US base in Germany via Geneva for medical evaluation.
Another, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, did not fly out with the others, US officials said. A fifth man, Matthew Trevithick, was freed in a separate process.
Meanwhile the US said it had offered clemency to seven Iranians being held in the US for sanctions violations.
Negotiations in December over the prisoner exchange delayed the US Treasury’s imposition of the latest sanctions.
They were only announced once the plane containing the former prisoners had left Iran, reports said.
They were triggered by Iran conducting a precision-guided ballistic missile test capable of delivering a nuclear warhead last October, violating a UN ban.
“Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions,” said Adam J. Szubin, US acting under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Moments later, President Barack Obama hailed the nuclear deal, which is being implemented following verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had restricted its sensitive nuclear activities.
“This is a good day because once again we’re seeing what’s possible with international diplomacy,” he said.
“For decades our differences meant our governments almost never spoke – ultimately, that did not advance America’s interests,” Barack Obama said.
The deal meant “Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb”, he said.
Barack Obama said differences with Iran remained, and the US would “remain steadfast in opposing Iran’s destabilizing behavior elsewhere” – such as its missile tests.
The president defended a separate settlement at an international legal tribunal which will see the US repay Iran $400 million in funds frozen since 1981 plus a further $1.3 billion in interest – saying there was no point “dragging this out”.
Earlier, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the nuclear deal opened a “new chapter” in the country’s relations with the world.
Iran nuclear deal has been welcomed by many governments, the UN and EU – but disparaged by some US Republicans and Israel, which says it allows Iran to continue to “spread terror”.
South Korea has decided to raise its alert level to “vital threat” following reports that North Korea is preparing for a missile test.
At least one ballistic missile with an estimated 2,000-mile (3,000 km) range is fuelled and ready for launch, US and South Korean sources say.
Pyongyang has been making bellicose threats against South Korea, Japan and US bases in the region.
The threats follow tough new UN sanctions imposed on North Korea last month following its third nuclear test in February this year.
Separately, an initial investigation by South Korea into a major cyber attack last month that affected a number of banks and broadcasters has said North Korea is to blame.
affected a number of banks and broadcasters has said the North is to blame.
North Korea is believed to have completed preparations for a missile launch after it moved two Musudan missiles to its east coast, Yonhap news agency says.
In anticipation, the South Korea-US Combined Forces have raised their alert level to Watchcon 2 (Vital threat), to increase surveillance monitoring, Yonhap quoted a senior military official as saying.
North Korea unveiled the Musudan missile during a military parade in 2010 but has yet to test it. There are reports, however, that it may have been sold to Iran and tested there.
The launch could happen “anytime from now”, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told parliament.
A test launch would be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, which states the North “must not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile”.
North Korea has tested intermediate range missiles before and during periods of crisis and tension.
While another test launch would certainly be seen as provocative, it is unlikely to have any major, short-term military significance unless it goes wrong.
The raising of South Korea’s alert status comes as Japan deployed anti-missile defenses in Tokyo as a precaution.
“We are on high alert,” said Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera.
A number of travel agencies in China have reported that tourist trips into North Korea have been suspended.
One travel agent in the north-eastern city of Dandong told Reuters news agency: “All [tourist] travel to North Korea has been stopped from today and I’ve no idea when it will restart.”
The border remains open to commercial traffic.
Meanwhile, an official investigation by South Korea into last month’s cyber attack traced the malicious codes used to six computers in North Korea.
“We’ve collected a lot of evidence to determine the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau led the attack, which had been prepared for at least eight months,” a spokesman for the Korea Internet and Security Agency said.
The attack on March 20 severely affected the KBS, MBC and YTN broadcasters and operations at the Shinhan, NongHyup and Jeju banks.
Yesterday North Korea has warned foreigners in South Korea to take precautions in case of war and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the crisis on the Korean peninsula may become “uncontrollable”.
Ban Ki-moon once again urged North Korea to tone down its “provocative rhetoric” and to keep open a joint North-South Korean industrial complex.
North Koreans failed to report for work at the Kaesong complex on Tuesday, suspending one of the few points of co-operation with South Korea.
In a new rhetoric, North Korea has warned foreign companies and tourists in South Korea to take evacuation measures in case of war.
This comes amid growing concern that North Korea may be about to launch its fourth missile test.
Pyongyang has been making bellicose threats against South Korea, Japan and US bases in the region.
Japan has deployed defensive anti-missile batteries at three locations in Tokyo, to protect the capital’s 30 million residents.
North Korea has warned foreign companies and tourists in South Korea to take evacuation measures in case of war
US-made Patriot anti-missile systems have been deployed at the defense ministry and at two other military bases.
“The government is making utmost efforts to protect our people’s lives and ensure their safety,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
“As North Korea keeps making provocative comments, Japan, co-operating with relevant countries, will do what we have to do,” he added.
At the end of last week Japan sent two of its most modern warships to the Sea of Japan with orders to shoot down any missiles fired by North Korea towards the Japanese islands.
Intelligence reports also suggest North Korea has moved two intermediate range missiles to its east coast in recent days.
Reports say no-one in Japan thinks Pyongyang is really preparing to attack.
But it may try to fire a missile over the top of Japan in to the Pacific Ocean. If it does Tokyo has made it clear it will shoot the missile down.
This is not the first time that Japan has taken such measures.
A statement attributed to Pyongyang’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said on Tuesday: “The situation on the Korean peninsula is heading for a thermo-nuclear war.
“In the event of war, we don’t want foreigners living in South Korea to get hurt.”
The statement urged “all foreign organizations, companies and tourists to work out measures for evacuation”.
Last Friday, Pyongyang warned it would not be able to guarantee the safety of embassy staff in the event of a war.
No foreign embassies immediately announced plans to evacuate, and the UK and Russian embassies have said they have no immediate plans to shut their embassies.
The US, which has also been threatened by North Korea, has said there were no imminent signs of threats to American citizens.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth advice on travel to South Korea was that there was “no immediate increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to South Korea” as a result of the North Korean warning last Friday.
Tuesday’s warning to foreigners in South Korea is the latest step in the escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula.
North Korean employees on Tuesday did not report for work at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, suspending one of the few points of co-operation between North and South Korea.
The UN imposed tough sanctions on North Korea last month following its third nuclear test.
Pyongyang has responded to this and to joint military exercises between South Korea and the US with escalating rhetoric. It has threatened to use nuclear weapons and said it would restart a nuclear reactor.
North Korea has also shut down an emergency military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang.
The United States has decided to delay Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test scheduled for next week, Pentagon officials have announced.
The Minuteman III ICBM test was put off over concerns it could be misinterpreted by North Korea, amid fears of a conflict.
The test could be postponed till May, in what correspondents say will be portrayed by Pyongyang as a victory.
North Korea has issued a series of unusually strong threats since it was sanctioned by the UN in March for carrying out a third nuclear test.
The Minuteman III ICBM test was put off over concerns it could be misinterpreted by North Korea, amid fears of a conflict
The communist country has threatened nuclear strikes on the US, formally declared war on South Korea, and pledged to reopen a nuclear reactor in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
A Pentagon official said the US wanted to “avoid any misperception or miscalculation” that might result from the Minuteman 3 test.
The US and South Korean officials have sought to play down fears of a conflict on the Korean peninsula in recent days.
Pyongyang will likely use the delay to its advantage in propaganda, and say the US has been forced to climb down in the face of resilience from the North Korean army.
The North Korean media are full of images of military preparedness intended to rally people behind the leadership.
On Friday, North Korea warned it would not be able to guarantee the safety of embassy staff in the event of a war, but no foreign governments have announced plans to evacuate their embassies.
Many of North Korea’s angry statements have cited annual military exercises between US and South Korean forces as provocation.
The US flew nuclear-capable B2 and B52 bombers over the South as part of the drill, and has since deployed warships with missile defense systems to the region.
This week, North Korea reportedly moved at least one missile to its east coast. It has threatened to strike the Pacific island of Guam, where the US has a military base.
North Korea’s missiles have the capability to carry nuclear warheads, but the country is not yet thought to have developed such warheads.
Many observers say that North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric appears intended for a domestic audience and at shoring up the position of Kim Jong-un, who came to power after his father’s death in December 2011.
The North Korean long-range rocket launched last month was largely made using domestic technology, South Korea says.
December’s launch – condemned by its neighbors as a banned missile test – successfully put North Korea’s first satellite in space.
International sanctions prevent North Korea importing advanced technology.
Correspondents say the discovery it was able to produce the “vast majority” of the parts without foreign help will be a cause for concern.
North Korea says the rocket carried a communications satellite into space, but the US and North Korea’s neighbors have long believed such operations represent attempts by Pyongyang to develop long-range missiles.
South Korean military and space experts salvaged 10 pieces of the rocket which it shed into the sea as it took off, including its first-stage engine, and its fuel and oxidizer tanks.
South Korean military and space experts salvaged 10 pieces of North Korean rocket which it shed into the sea as it took off, including its first-stage engine, and its fuel and oxidizer tanks
In its report, the South Korean Defence Ministry said: “North Korea is believed to have made a majority of components itself, although it used commercially available products imported from overseas.”
North Korea has conducted two long-range rocket launches since Kim Jong-un came to power in December 2011. The launch in April failed, but December’s attempt was an apparent success.
The US, Japan and South Korea are seeking a response in the UN Security Council, which banned North Korea from missile tests after nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
A South Korean diplomat said a draft resolution calling for tougher sanctions was being circulated at the UN, with a vote in the Security Council expected on Tuesday or Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
North Korea has made the arrangements to put into position a long-range rocket for a controversial launch next week – amid reports it is also planning a nuclear test.
Pyongyang says the Unha-3 rocket, which it plans to launch between 12 and 16 April, will put a satellite into orbit.
But opponents of the move fear it is a disguised long-range missile test.
Meanwhile, South Korean officials say new satellite images suggest the North is preparing to carry out a third nuclear test.
North Korea has made the arrangements to put into position a long-range rocket for a controversial launch next week
The images show piles of earth and sand at the entrance of a tunnel at the Punggye-Ri site, where tests of a nuclear bomb were previously carried out in 2006 and 2009, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
“Recent satellite images led us to conclude the North has been secretly digging a new underground tunnel in the nuclear test site… besides two others where the previous tests were conducted,” one unnamed official told the AFP news agency.
North Korea has been under close scrutiny by its neighbors and the international community since Kim Jong-Un became leader of the secretive state following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011.
Pyongyang had agreed in February to a partial freeze in nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid. But the deal was put on hold last month after the North announced its rocket launch plans.
Foreign journalists were taken by train to the Sohae satellite station at Tongchang-Ri, on the country’s north-west coast, to see for themselves the final preparations for the rocket launch.
All three stages of the rocket were visibly in position at the launch pad, an Associated Press reporter said from the scene.
Station manager Jang Myong-Jim told reporters that preparations were on track and fueling would begin soon, without giving exact timings.
Jang Myong-Jim said the 100 kg (220 pound) satellite is designed to send back images and information that will be used for weather forecasts as well as surveys of North Korea’s natural resources, the AP reports.
Pyongyang has previously said the launch, for “peaceful purposes”, is to mark the centennial of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
But the United States and North Korea’s neighbors say it contravenes UN resolutions that were imposed after a similar launch in April 2009.
Japan and South Korea have warned they will shoot the rocket down if it strays into their territory.
The United States has confirmed the decision to put on hold planned food aid to North Korea.
The decision comes after Pyongyang announced a new rocket launch, which the US says breaks the terms of a deal agreed last month.
Earlier reports that the food aid plans had been suspended were confirmed by a Pentagon official on Wednesday.
Peter Lavoy told lawmakers North Korea had violated a missile test moratorium agreement and could not be trusted to deliver the aid properly.
Under the deal signed in February, North Korea agreed to a partial freeze in nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told a government committee that next month’s planned rocket launch “reflects [North Korea’s] lack of desire to follow through on their international commitments and so we’ve been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance”.
The United States has confirmed the decision to put on hold planned food aid to North Korea
North Korea claims the launch – which is scheduled for between April 12-16 – is only a satellite and is for scientific purposes.
But the US and North Korea’s neighbors insist it will be a long-range missile test, breaking the terms of last month’s agreement.
The US has not delivered food aid to North Korea since 2009, but sent officials to Pyongyang’s ally China earlier this month to finalize plans to re-start food deliveries.
North Korea has suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990s, and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.
The planned 240,000 tons of food aid from the US was to go to children and pregnant women.