North Korea has claimed that the rocket it test-fired on Wednesday morning is a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike anywhere on the US mainland, as it declared itself a “complete” nuclear state.
In a special announcement broadcast on state TV, the regime said it had successfully tested a Hwasong-15, which appears to be an advanced version of ICBMs it launched in July.
A government statement, read out by the TV presenter Ri Chun-hee, quoted the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as saying: “Now we have finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”
Kim oversaw the launch in Pyongsong, about 18 miles north of the capital, Pyongyang. The official KCNA news agency said the missile was more sophisticated than any previously tested and was capable of carrying a “super-large heavy (nuclear) warhead”.
The regime’s claims have not been independently verified, but experts had been expecting North Korea to demonstrate that it now has all of the US in range – a development that significantly strengthens its position in any negotiations with Washington over its nuclear weapons programme.
Pyongyang has not, however, proved it has the capability to marry a miniaturised nuclear warhead with a long-range missile and send it at a trajectory that would put US cities in its sights.
South Korea and Japan led condemnation of North Korea’s launch of the missile, which landed off Japan’s coast.
The launch, which triggered a South Korean test-launch in response, reignited tensions in the region after a lull of more than two months.
It was North Korea’s 20th launch of a ballistic missile this year, and possibly its third successful test of an ICBM following two launches in July.
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, voiced concern that North Korea’s perfection of an ICBM would send regional security “spiralling out of control” and lead the US to consider launching a pre-emptive strike.
Wednesday morning’s launch adds to fears that North Korea will soon have a military arsenal that can viably target the US mainland.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, condemned the missile launch as “intolerable” and called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council. Within hours of the test, Abe and Donald Trump agreed to strengthen their defence capability and to urge China – North Korea’s main ally – to apply more pressure on Pyongyang over its weapons programme.
China expressed “grave concern” at the test, while calling for all sides to act cautiously.
The missile was reported to have flown for 50 minutes on a very high trajectory, reaching 2,796 miles (4,500km) above the earth (more than 10 times higher than the orbit of Nasa’s International Space Station) before coming down nearly 621 miles from the launch site off the west coast of Japan.
President Trump, who had insisted that North Korean development of an ICBM would not happen during his presidency, said: “We will take care of it … it is a situation that we will handle.”