SEOUL: North Korea has test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time, the United States confirmed Tuesday as it warned of an escalating threat from Pyongyang and insisted America would never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.
The North’s possession of a working ICBM — something US President Donald Trump had vowed “won’t happen” — represents a milestone for the reclusive communist regime as it pushes ahead with a weapons program it says it needs to ward off invasion.
Some experts said such a missile could reach Alaska or go even further toward the US mainland. But there was widespread skepticism of the North’s claim of the missile being able to “strike any place in the world.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un called the missile “a gift” to “American b*******” on the US Independence Day holiday, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Pyongyang’s having such a weapon could radically alter the calculus for countries seeking to thwart the military goals of the isolated state.
North Korea’s official news agency announced that the ICBM is capable of carrying a “large, heavy nuclear warhead” that can survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
It quoted leader Kim, who personally oversaw the test, as having inspected the Hwasong-14 missile and “expressed satisfaction, saying it looked as handsome as a good-looking boy and was well made.”
The North’s Academy of Defence Science, which developed the missile, said it reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometres and flew 933 kilometres, calling it the “final gate to rounding off the state nuclear force.”
US confirmation of the launch came in a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“The United States strongly condemns North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world,” Tillerson said.
He added: “As we, along with others, have made clear, we will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.”
The United States requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which is expected to take place on Wednesday.
Russia and China issued a joint appeal to ease soaring tensions between the United States and North Korea.
But that call was shrugged off by Washington and Seoul, which fired ballistic missiles simultaneously in a drill Wednesday simulating an attack on the North’s leadership, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “as a strong message of warning.”
The live-fire training was held at the order of President Moon Jae-In, Yonhap news agency said, who backs engagement with Pyongyang to bring it to the negotiating table.
“President Moon said North Korea’s serious provocation required us to react with more than just a statement and that we need to clearly show our missile defence readiness to North Korea,” it cited Seoul’s presidential Blue House as saying.
The missiles deployed in the drill feature “deep strike precision capability,” enabling the United States and South Korea “to engage the full array of time critical targets under all weather conditions,” the US military said.