North Korea successfully tested a newly-developed ballistic missile, seeking to verify the new missile’s capability to carry a nuclear warhead, the North Korean government said Monday.
“The test-fire aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” said the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run media service.
The test, the country’s seventh this year, was conducted on Sunday and drew significant ire from White House officials, who called the North Korean regime a “flagrant menace” in a statement.
“The United States maintains our ironclad commitment to stand with our allies in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea,” the statement went on to say.
More hostile rhetoric flew from the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after the test, accusing the United States of “browbeating” non-nuclear armed countries.
“If the U.S. awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK, it will not escape from the biggest disaster in the [sic] history,” Kim told KCNA. The media service went on paraphrase Kim’s statement: “…the U.S. should not disregard or misjudge the reality that its mainland and Pacific operation region are in the DPRK’s sighting range for strike and that it has all powerful means for retaliatory strike,” KCNA reported. DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Before landing in the ocean somewhere near Russia, the missile flew about 435 miles and reached an altitude of over 1,243 miles, further and higher than in any previous North Korean missile test, according to 38 North, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies devoted to analysis of North Korea.
“North Korea’s latest successful missile test represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile,” the organization said in an analysis last Sunday.
“It appears to have not only demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that might enable them to reliably strike the U.S. base at Guam, but more importantly, may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).”
South Korean military officials were more skeptical, saying on Monday that before they can verify the success of the test, more analysis was needed.
While North Korea is suspected to be in the process of developing an ICBM, the test on Sunday used a missile with a much shorter range.
“The type of missile is being assessed and the flight was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Pacific Command spokesman Maj. Rob Shuford said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said on Sunday that the administration would continue to “tighten the screws” on the North Korean regime. That remark is in line with prior rhetoric, but somewhat at odds with statements from South Korea’s newly-elected president, Moon Jae-in.
Sworn in Wednesday, Moon has advocated for dialogue with the North Korean regime, vowing to fly to Washington “immediately” if it meant resolving the security crisis.
“Under the right conditions, I will also go to Pyongyang,” Moon said at his swearing in ceremony. “For peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do.”
This approach is in stark contrast to Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who advocated aggressive sanctions against North Korea and, before her impeachment, sought to allow the United States to deploy a THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. Moon wants to suspend that deployment, at the very least to allow the South Korean parliament to weigh in on the decision.
If Moon can get Washington on board with his more diplomatic approach, it may represent a significant shift in how South Korea deals with its northern neighbor.
Despite the hostile rhetoric, Choe Son Hui, a senior North Korean diplomat who handles relations with the United States, on Saturday told reporters that Pyongyang would “have a dialogue if the conditions are there,” further opening up chances for diplomacy.
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