North Korea fired its first Intercontinental ballistic missile in three months after warning of “shocking” consequences to protest alleged US surveillance activity close to its territory.
Some experts say North Korea likely launched its developmental, road-mobile Hwasong-18 ICBM, a type of solid-fuel weapon that is harder to detect and intercept than its liquid-fuel ICBMs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously called the Hwasong-18 his most powerful nuclear weapon.
First Missile in three months
Seoul and Tokyo report the missile was fired around 10 am from the region of Pyong Yang and flew 1000 kilometres before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
They said the missile was launched at a high angle in what observers say was an apparent attempt to avoid neighbouring countries.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the missile flew for 74 minutes - the longest flight time recorded by any weapon launched by North Korea. The previous record of 71 minutes was registered during the test flight of the liquid-fuel Hwasong-17 ICBM last year.
South Korea’s military called the launch “a grave provocation” and urged North Korea to refrain from additional launches. Matsuno denounced North Korea’s repeated missile launches as “threats to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and international society.”
In a trilateral phone call, the chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan and the US agreed to sternly deal with North Korean provocations and boost their coordination to promote a stronger international response to the North’s nuclear and missile programs, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
The launch came while South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida were attending the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. In an emergency meeting of South Korea’s security council convened by video in Lithuania, Yoon warned North Korea would face more powerful international sanctions due to its illicit weapons programs.
North Korea’s ICBM program targets mainland United States. Its shorter-range missiles are designed to strike Washington's regional allies, South Korea and Japan.
Alleged US spy plane activity
Earlier this week, North Korea released a series of statements accusing the U.S. of flying a military spy plane close to its soil.
In a statement Monday night, Kim Jong Un’s sister and top adviser, Kim Yo Jong, warned the United States of consequences as she claimed that a US spy plane flew over the North’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times earlier in the day.
The US and South Korea dismissed the North’s accusations and urged it to refrain from any acts or rhetoric that raised animosities.
“I would just say that we continue to urge (North Korea) to refrain from escalatory actions,” Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said Tuesday. “As a matter of international law, (North Korea’s) recent statements that US flights above its claimed exclusive economic zone are unlawful are unfounded, as high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in such areas.”
North Korea has made numerous similar accusations over US reconnaissance activities, but its latest statements came amid heightened animosities. North Kora has been conducting a series of weapons tests since the start of last year.
Some observers say the Pyong Yang wants to use its expanded arsenal to wrest greater concessions from its rivals in eventual diplomatic negotiations.
UN Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from engaging in any launches using ballistic technologies. However, China and Russia have blocked the attempts by the US and others, to toughen international sanctions on North Korea.