SEOUL/WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – North Korea said yesterday it had conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that proved its ability to strike all of America’s mainland, drawing a sharp warning from U.S. President Donald Trump and a rebuke from China.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally supervised the midnight launch of the missile on Friday night and said it was a “stern warning” for the United States that it would not be safe from destruction if it tries to attack, the North’s official KCNA news agency said.
“The test-fire reconfirmed the reliability of the ICBM system, demonstrated the capability of making a surprise launch of the ICBM in any region and place any time, and clearly proved that the whole U.S. mainland is in the firing range of the DPRK missiles, (Kim) said with pride,” KCNA said.
DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The launch comes less than a month after the North conducted its first ICBM test in defiance of years of efforts led by the United States, South Korea and Japan to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
The North conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear test last year and has engaged in an unprecedented pace of missile development that experts said significantly advanced its ability to launch longer-range ballistic missiles.
“By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people,” Trump said in a statement. “The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.”
China, the North’s main ally, said it opposed North Korea’s “launch activities that run counter to Security Council resolutions and the common wishes of the international community.”
A foreign ministry statement added: “At the same time, China hopes all parties act with caution, to prevent tensions from continuing to escalate, to jointly protect regional peace and stability.”
Early on Saturday, the United States and South Korea conducted a live-fire ballistic missile exercise in a display of firepower in response to the missile launch, the U.S. and South Korean militaries said.
The Trump administration has said that all options are on the table to deal with North Korea. However it has also made clear that diplomacy and sanctions are its preferred course.
Following a meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he wanted the U.N. Security Council to discuss new and stronger sanctions against the North, the presidential Blue House said.
South Korea has also said it will proceed with the deployment of four additional units of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile defence system that Moon has earlier delayed for an environmental assessment.
The missile test came a day after the U.S. Senate approved a package of sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Trump is ready to sign the bill, the White House said on Friday.
The sanctions are likely to include measures aimed at Chinese financial institutions that do business with North Korea. Washington has also proposed a new round of U.N. sanctions on North Korea following its July 4 ICBM test.
In Friday’s test, North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile, named after the Korean word for Mars, reached an altitude of 3,724.9 km and flew 998 km for 47 minutes and 12 seconds before landing in the waters off the Korean peninsula’s east coast, KCNA said.
Western experts said it was an improvement on North Korea’s first test of an ICBM.
The flight demonstrated successful stage separation, reliability of the vehicle’s control and guidance to allow the warhead to make an atmospheric re-entry under conditions harsher than under a normal long-range trajectory, KCNA said.
The trajectory was in line with the estimates given by the South Korean, U.S. and Japanese militaries, which said the missile was believed to be an ICBM-class rocket.
Independent weapons experts said the launch demonstrated many parts of the United States were within range if the missile had been launched at a flattened trajectory.
Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies said the launch showed Los Angeles was within range of a North Korean missile, with Chicago, New York and Washington, just out of reach.
“They may not have demonstrated the full range. The computer models suggest it can hit all of those targets,” he said.
The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said its calculations showed the missile could have been capable of going as far into the United States as Denver and Chicago.
Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the window for a diplomatic solution with North Korea “is closing rapidly.”
“The key here is that North Korea has a second successful test in less than one month,” he said. “If this trend holds, they could establish an acceptably reliable ICBM before year’s end.”
John Schilling, an aerospace expert and a contributor to 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring website, said the improved performance over the previous test could have been the result of a lighter payload as part of an effort to demonstrate that the missile could hit the U.S. capital.