North Korea said on Wednesday it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile, which it implied was being developed as nuclear capable.
The missile test early on Tuesday was North Korea's third round of launches this month.
It took place shortly before North Korea’s UN envoy accused the United States of hostility and demanded the Biden administration permanently end joint military exercises with South Korea and the deployment of strategic assets in the region.
The dictatorship is continuing to expand its military capabilities and pressure Washington and Seoul over long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear weapons.
A photo published in North Korea's state media showed a missile mounted with a finned, cone-shaped payload soaring into the air amid bright orange flames.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the missile during its first flight test met key technical requirements, including launch stability and the maneuverability and flight characteristics of the “detached hypersonic gliding warhead.”
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff assessed the missile to be at an early stage of development and said North Korea would need “considerable time” to be able to deploy it operationally.
The North’s announcement came a day after the South Korean and Japanese militaries said they detected North Korea firing a missile into its eastern sea. The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted “the destabilising impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program.”
In a separate report, KCNA said the North’s rubber-stamp parliament opened a session on Tuesday and discussed domestic issues such as economic policies and youth education and that the meetings would continue.
Some experts speculate the North might use the session to address the deadlock on nuclear diplomacy, but the state media report did not mention any comments made toward Washington and Seoul.
At a ruling party meeting in January, leader Kim Jong Un named hypersonic glide vehicles, which are launched from a rocket before gliding into a target, among a wish-list of sophisticated military assets.
KCNA described the new missile as an important addition to the country’s “strategic” weaponry, implying that the system is being developed to deliver nuclear weapons.
The report also said the test confirmed the stability of the missile’s fuel capsule, indicating a technology to add liquid propellant beforehand and keep it launch-ready for years. And a North Korean official said the North planned to expand the system to all its liquid-fuel missiles.
Liquid-fuel missiles are more vulnerable than solid-fuel missiles because they need to be fueled separately and transported to launch sites using trucks that can be seen by enemy satellites or other military assets.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea is trying to improve the mobility of these weapons.
North Korea last week made offers to improve relations with South Korea under certain conditions, apparently returning to its pattern of mixing weapons demonstrations with peace overtures to wrest outside concessions.
Negotiations over its nuclear program have been in a stalemate since February 2019. North Korea has demanded the lifting of US-led sanctions while insisting it has the right to nuclear weapons. US officials have made it clear the sanctions will stay in place until the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearisation.
Kim Jong Un in recent political speeches has vowed to bolster his nuclear program as a deterrent to the US. His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offer to resume talks without preconditions, saying that Washington must abandon its “hostile policy” first, a term North Korea mainly uses to refer to sanctions and joint US-South Korea military drills the North considers to be an invasion rehearsal.