NORTH KOREA has declared it has achieved its long-held goal of becoming a nuclear power after it successfully conducted a night test of a long-range missile capable of hitting the United States. The missile landed off the coast of Japan, triggering a South Korea test-launch in response and bringing a return to high tension to the region after a lull of more than two months.
North Korea said the new powerful missile reached an altitude of around 4,475 km – more than 10 times the height of the international space station – and flew 950 km during its 53 minute flight, before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
This would make it the most powerful of the three ICBM’s North Korea has tested so far.
“After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” according to a statement read by a television presenter.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the launch had been anticipated and that the government had been preparing for it. Moon said that there is no choice but for countries to keep applying pressure and sanctions against North Korea.
A statement from the US Department of Defense said confirmed the missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea.
Pentagon Spokesman Col. Robert Manning reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the defence of both South Korea and Japan.
“We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation,” the statement said.
The test comes one week after US President Donald Trump reclassified North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the United States to impose more sanctions, although some experts said it risked inflaming tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under its leader, Kim Jong Un, in defiance of UN sanctions. Trump has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States.
Of the latest test missile, Trump told reporters at the White House: “It is a situation that we will handle.”
Trump said the launch did not change his administration’s approach to North Korea, which has included new curbs to hurt trade between China and North Korea.
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke on the phone on Wednesday, agreeing to boost their response after Pyongyang’s latest launch.
The leaders “agreed to strengthen our deterrence capability against the North Korean threat,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, deputy chief cabinet secretary, told reporters. He added that both also agreed that China needs to play an increased role.
In a statement from the US State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “Together the international community must continue to send a unified message to North Korea” to abandon its nuclear programme.
On top of UN sanctions, Tillerson said the international community must take “additional measures” to enhance maritime security, including “the right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).”
Adding that the US remain committed to finding a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the crisis, Tillerson said a meeting in Canada will convene with South Korea, Japan, and other key affected countries, to discuss a road map to international peace. A date is yet to be set.