North Korea has confirmed that it test-fired its biggest-yet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on the orders of leader Kim Jong-un, marking an end to a self-imposed moratorium on such tests.
The leader of North Korea was present at the Thursday launch of what is being described as a “new type” of ICBM – the Hwasong-17.
It was the nuclear-armed country’s first full ICBM test since 2017 and appeared to have traveled higher and further than any previous missiles tested by Pyongyang to boost its nuclear deterrent against the US.
According to North Korea’s state media, the missile was launched from Pyongyang International Airport, traveling up to a maximum altitude of 6,248 km and flying a distance of 1,090 km during a 67-minute flight, before falling into the Sea of Japan.
The Hwasong-17 is a giant ICBM, first unveiled in a military parade in October 2020, and dubbed a “monster missile” by military experts. It had never previously been successfully test-fired.
Warning for ‘US imperialists’
The official news agency, KCNA, said the North Korean leader ordered the test because of the “daily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsula” and the “inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the US imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war.”
“The emergence of the new strategic weapon of the DPRK would make the whole world clearly aware of the power of our strategic armed forces once again,” said Kim.
“Any forces should be made to be well aware of the fact that they will have to pay a very dear price before daring to attempt to infringe upon the security of our country,” he added.
Kim called the test of the world’s biggest road-mobile ballistic missile systems ‘miraculous’ and ‘priceless’ victory, adding that the new weapon would “creditably perform its mission and duty as a powerful nuclear war deterrent”.
The launch, however, drew condemnation from Pyongyang’s neighbors and the United States.
South Korea, the United States, and UN chief Antonio Guterres decried the test as a “clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions, while Japan said it threatened “peace and safety” in the region.
White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said in a statement that Washington “strongly condemns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its test of a long-range ballistic missile”.
“We urge all countries to hold the DPRK accountable for such violations and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations,” it further said, adding that the “the door has not closed on diplomacy”, but Pyongyang must “immediately cease its destabilizing actions.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-Yong called for a “decisive response” and said additional measures by the UN Security Council were essential, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss North Korea’s ICBM test, but condemnation or new sanctions are unlikely in the wake of Russia’s veto.
Late on Thursday, Washington announced new sanctions in relation to North Korea’s weapons program, targeting two Russian companies, a Russian and a North Korean, as well as North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Science Foreign Affairs Bureau.
“These measures are part of our ongoing efforts to impede the DPRK’s ability to advance its missile program and they highlight the negative role Russia plays on the world stage as a proliferator to programs of concern,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
North Korea ups the ante
Kim has greatly focused on expanding his country’s nuclear and missile capabilities since diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump ended without any breakthrough in 2019.
The former US president had engaged in several rounds of dialogue with North Korea’s leader, but Washington blew what Pyongyang called a “golden opportunity” at mending the ties by insisting too much on the country’s denuclearization and failing to accommodate its security concerns.
Pyongyang has rebuffed the Joe Biden administration’s repeated offers of nuclear negotiations.
Thursday’s test was North Korea’s 12th round of weapons launches this year and represented the most powerful test since Biden took office early last year.
Some experts have linked the launch to Pyongyang’s preparations to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.
“Kim Jong Un wants to ultimately establish himself as a leader who has successfully developed both nuclear weapons and ICBMs,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean studies scholar, was quoted as saying by AFP.