NORTH KOREA said on Tuesday it successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which flew a trajectory an expert said could allow a weapon to hit the US state of Alaska.
The launch comes days before leaders from the Group of 20 nations are due to discuss steps to rein in Pyongyang’s weapons programmes, which North Korea has pursued in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions.
The launch, which North Korea‘s state media said was ordered and supervised by leader Kim Jong Un, sent the rocket 933km reaching an altitude of 2,802km over a flight time of 39 minutes.
Officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States said the missile landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) after being launched near an airfield in Panghyon, about 100km northwest of Pyongyang.
North Korea‘s state media said in a statement:
“The test launch was conducted at the sharpest angle possible and did not have any negative effect on neighbouring countries.”
The North also said its missiles were now capable of striking anywhere in the world.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who convened a national security council meeting, said the missile was believed to be an intermediate range type, but the military was also looking at the possibility it was an ICBM.
Stock markets in both South Korea and Japan fell after the missile launch, with the Kospi ending down 0.6 percent and Japan’s Nikkei share average ending down 0.1 percent.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday he will ask the presidents of China and Russia to play more constructive roles in efforts to stop the Pyongyang’s arms programme.
“Leaders of the world will gather at the G20 meeting. I would like to strongly call for solidarity of the international community on the North Korean issue,” Abe told reporters.
Japan said on Monday the US, South Korea and Japan will have a trilateral summit on North Korea at the G20. China’s leader Xi Jinping will also be at the July 7-8 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.
US President Donald Trump, responding to the latest launch, wrote on Twitter: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” an apparent reference to Kim.
“Hard to believe South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”Trump said in a series of tweets.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called for calm and restraint after the launch.
Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said UN Security Council resolutions had clear rules on North Korean missile launches and China was opposed to Pyongyang violating those rules. He was speaking at a daily news briefing.
North Korea has conducted nuclear and missile tests to show defiance in the face of international pressure and to raise the stakes when Pyongyang sees regional powers getting ready for talks or sanctions, analysts say.
White House officials said Trump was briefed on the latest launch, which took place hours before Independence Day celebrations in the US. North Korea has previously fired missiles around this holiday.
Very high trajectory
Pyongyang has conducted missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace since the start of last year, but analysts had thought it was years away from having a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the US.
North Korea is also trying to develop intermediate-range missiles capable of hitting US bases in the Pacific. The last North Korean launches before Tuesday were of land-to-sea cruise missiles on June 8.
David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said the assessments of the flight time and distance suggested the missile might have been launched on a “very highly lofted” trajectory of more than 2,800km.
The same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700km on a standard trajectory, Wright said in a blog post.
“That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska,” he said.
South Korea‘s Moon said on Monday in a meeting with former US president Barack Obama North Korea now faced its “last opportunity” to engage in talks with the outside world.
North Korea has conducted four missile tests since Moon took office in May, vowing to use dialogue as well as pressure to bring Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes under control.
Earlier this week, North Korea was a key topic in phone calls between Trump and the leaders of China and Japan. Leaders of both Asian countries reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearised Korean Peninsula. – Reuters