North Korea on Thursday claimed its intermediate-range ballistic missile soared as high as 1,400 kilometers during Wednesday’s test, with its leader Kim Jong-un boasting the country now has the “overall, practical” ability to strike U.S. military bases throughout the Pacific.
State media said the missile, formally Hwasong-10, or better known as Musudan, climbed 1,413.6 kilometers before falling into the “exact target area” in the sea 400 kilometers away.
The experiment, the sixth involving the much-touted yet little verified weapon, is set to further magnify the communist state’s threats on top of its latest nuclear and long-range missile tests early this year.
With a potential range of 3,500 kilometers, the IRBM covers vast swaths of Asia and the Pacific, including U.S. territory Guam.
Seoul, Washington, Beijing and other countries, as well as the U.N. Security Council, criticized the act as a breach of Pyongyang’s international obligations.
“We have the sure capability to attack, in an overall and practical way, the Americans in the Pacific operation theater,” Kim was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency following the event, calling for sustained increases of “preemptive nuclear attack capability.”
While pinpointing the missile’s peak altitude and sharp-angle setup, the report said the recent launch also enabled engineers to verify the heat-resistance characteristics of its warhead part and flight stability in the reentry phase.
Seoul’s military said the North has made “technical progress in improving engine performance,” but added it was too early to call the launch a success.
“Further verification is needed on actual flight capability. And it’s also important that the missile flies more than its minimum range on a normal trajectory,” Joint Chief of Staff spokesman Col. Jeon Ha-kyu said at a news briefing.
During five previous rounds of testing over the past two months, including one earlier Wednesday, the Musudans had all crashed into the sea or exploded soon after liftoff, JCS officials said.
The Defense Ministry’s deputy spokesperson Col. Na Seung-yong raised the possibility of additional provocations.
“We can’t always rule out the possibility that North Korea may stage another nuclear or missile test under Kim Jong-un’s orders or other internal political decisions.”
At a lunch meeting with military commanders, President Park Geun-hye called for an airtight readiness posture so that Pyongyang would “not dare to have an illusion” that it may shake South Korean society, loosen global sanctions or face eased pressure.
“If North Korea commits a provocation, I hope you will sternly retaliate in the initial stages as you’ve trained and clearly show its consequences,” she said.
Defense Minister Han Min-koo also reviewed the security situation during an earlier session with the generals, warning the North would face “complete isolation and self-destruction” should it continue its provocative behavior.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se labeled North Korea as the “gravest threat” to the global nonproliferation regime during a Nuclear Suppliers Group conference in Seoul, urging the guild to play a greater role in curbing Pyongyang’s military ambitions and implementing UNSC resolutions.
“The NSG needs to send a clear, loud and powerful message against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” Yun said in his opening remarks at the conference.
“As long as North Korea continues to defy the nonproliferation regime, we — the whole world — should remind North Korea that its misbehavior will have unbearable costs.”
The UNSC, which levied a fresh set of sanctions in March following the North’s recent underground blast and long-range rocket send-off, met in New York on Wednesday upon the request of the U.S. and Japan.
“All expressed a strong concern as well as their opposition (to) these launches,” said Alexis Lamek, the deputy U.N. ambassador of France who holds the top governing body’s presidency this month, after the session, adding that it would soon issue a statement condemning the Musudan liftoffs.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also lashed out against the move, calling it a “brazen and irresponsible act.”
China, the North’s top diplomatic and economic patron, warned against a violation of international resolutions banning its use of ballistic technology, calling for restraint.
“The issue of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch is clearly stipulated in UNSC resolutions,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a press briefing. “We hope the relevant party will refrain from tension-escalating behavior given the current complex and sensitive situation.”