North Korea said on Monday it had successfully conducted a mid-to-long-range missile test and would continue such launches “any time, any place”, defying UN Security Council resolutions and warnings from the United States.
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States in a sea of flames, has accused Washington of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war with recent military drills with South Korea and Japan.
The North’s KCNA news agency said Sunday’s test launch verified the homing feature of the warhead that allowed it to survive “under the worst re-entry situation” and accurately detonate. It also tested the North’s capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”, KCNA said.
“The test-fire proved to the full all the technical specifications of the rocket … like guidance and stabilisation systems … and reconfirmed the reliability of new rocket engine under the practical flight circumstances,” KCNA said.
North Korea’s successful missile test-launch signals major advances in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, such as mastery of re-entry technology and better engine performance key to targeting the United States, experts say.
The isolated country has been developing a long-range missile capable of striking the mainland United States mounted with a nuclear warhead. That would require a flight of 8,000km or more and technology to ensure a warhead’s stable re-entry into the atmosphere.
The new strategic ballistic missile named Hwasong-12, fired on Sunday at the highest angle to avoid affecting neighbouring countries’ security, flew 787km on a trajectory reaching an altitude of 2,111.5km, KCNA said.
The details reported by KCNA were largely consistent with South Korean and Japanese assessments that it flew further and higher than an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) tested in February from the same region, northwest of Pyongyang.
The test “represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile”, John Schilling, an aerospace expert, said in an analysis on the US-based 38 North website.
North Korea, which is banned by UN resolutions from engaging in nuclear and missile developments, has accused the United States of a hostile policy to crush its regime, calling its nuclear weapons a “sacred sword” to protect itself. The North’s leader, Kim, has said it was in final stages of developing an ICBM.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Moscow was opposed to any new countries acquiring nuclear weapons, but that the world should talk to North Korea rather than threaten it.
Putin, speaking in Beijing, said nuclear tests of the type that Pyongyang had been carrying out in recent weeks were unacceptable, but that a peaceful solution to rising tensions on the Korean peninsula was needed.
“I want to confirm that we are categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear powers, including with the Korean Peninsula and North Korea,” said Putin, who said any such move would be “harmful and dangerous”.
Putin did not specify what countries he had in mind, but he has in the past repeatedly criticised the United States for military operations in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and accused it of trying to oust legitimate governments.