North Korea tests powerful new ICBM, claims it can strike all continental US
Missile test was the first of any kind by North Korea since September 15 and drew swift condemnations from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington
North Korea said Wednesday it had achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state after successfully testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile that put the “whole mainland of the US” within its range.
After watching the launch of the Hwasong-15, the North’s leader Kim Jong-un “declared with pride that now we have finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force”, the official KCNA news agency said.
The test triggered global outrage with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis saying it marked a significant step toward North Korea building missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world, basically”.
It was the first missile test of any kind since September 15, and squashed speculation that the North may have held back to open the door to a negotiated solution to a nuclear stand-off.
“The ICBM Hwasong-15 type weaponry system is an intercontinental ballistic rocket tipped with super-large heavy warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the US,” KCNA said.
Watch: Trump responds to North Korea’s missile launch
It said the development of the weapon would defend the North against the “US imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”.
While Pyongyang has yet to prove its mastery of the re-entry technology required to bring a warhead back through the Earth’s atmosphere, experts believe it is on the threshold of developing a working intercontinental nuclear strike capability.
Wednesday’s test caused “grave concern” in China and deep consternation among the North’s other neighbours.
China Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing’s proposal for North Korea to freeze weapons tests in return for the US to suspend military drills in the region was the best approach to ease tensions. Washington has rejected that approach.
China hopes all sides will work on the “peaceful settlement” of the issue as a military option is not the solution to resolve the crisis, Geng told a regular news briefing.
“China expresses grave concern and opposition to the relevant launching activity,” the spokesman said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier called the launch an intolerable, “violent” act and South Korean President Moon Jae-in condemned Pyongyang’s “reckless” behaviour.
“If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could reach from one continent to another, the situation can spiral out of control,” Moon said at an emergency meeting in Seoul, according to his office.
“We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike.”
Moon, a liberal who has been forced into a more hawkish stance by a stream of North Korean weapons tests, has repeatedly declared that there can be no US attack on the North without Seoul’s approval, but many here worry that Washington may act without South Korean input.
If flown on a standard trajectory, instead of Wednesday’s lofted angle, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometres, said US scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes.
“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States,” Wright wrote in a blog post for the Union for Concerned Scientists.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the missile landed inside of Japan’s special economic zone in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), about 250 kilometres west of Aomori, which is on the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.
A big unknown, however, is the missile’s payload. If, as expected, it carried a light mock warhead, then its effective range would have been shorter, analysts said.
An intercontinental ballistic missile test is considered particularly provocative, and indications that it flew higher than past launches suggest progress by Pyongyang in developing a weapon of mass destruction that could strike the US mainland.
US President Donald Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from having that capability – using military force if necessary.
In response to the launch, Trump said the United States will “take care of it.”
He told reporters after the launch: “It is a situation that we will handle.” He did not elaborate.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea.
South Korea’s responding missile tests included one with a 1,000km range, to mimic striking the North Korea launch site, which is not far from the North Korean capital.
Watch: South Korea responds with own missile test
The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday afternoon at the request of Japan, the US and South Korea.
A week ago, the Trump administration declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, further straining ties between governments that are still technically at war.
Washington also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North.
North Korea called the terror designation a “serious provocation” that justifies its development of nuclear weapons.
Abe, who spoke with Trump, said Japan would not back down against any provocation and would maximise pressure on the North in its strong alliance with the US
Trump has ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on the North to prevent its nuclear and missile development.
So far, the pressure has failed to get North Korea’s government, which views a nuclear arsenal as key to its survival, to return to long-stalled international negotiations on its nuclear programme.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that North Korea was “indiscriminately threatening its neighbours, the region and global stability.”
He urged the international community to not only implement existing UN sanctions on North Korea but also to consider additional measures for interdicting maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the country.
“Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” Tillerson said, adding the US remains committed to “finding a peaceful path to denuclearisation and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.”
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press