North Korea has declared itself a “nuclear state” after successfully testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile that it said was capable of striking anywhere in the United States.
The announcement of the new “Hwasong-15” missile, made in a special broadcast at noon local time on Wednesday, came hours after a long-range missile was fired into waters off Japan in what was believed to be its longest-range test yet.
Kim Jong-un’s rogue regime launched the missile, its first for more than two months, in the middle of the night and it flew for around 590 miles, reaching an altitude of 2,781 miles – more than 10 times the height of the international space station – and splashing down 53 minutes later in the Sea of Japan.
The missile ended up within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast.
North Korea had carried out two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile in July, both of which were Hwasong-14 missiles. The revelation of the new missile came as a surprise to experts.
“The ICBM Hwasong-15 type weaponry system is an intercontinental ballistic rocket tipped with super-large heavy warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the US,” KCNA said.
It said the development of the weapon would defend the North against the “US imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”.
“Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force,” state media KCNA reported.
In response to the test, Donald Trump, the US president, said: “It is a situation that we will handle. We will take care of it.” He offered no further details.
The missile reached a greater altitude than any North Korea has previously tested, James Mattis, the US defence secretary, said.
Pyongyang residents react at the Pyongyang Railway Station after the news of the successful launch of the new intercontinental ballistic missile
“It went higher frankly than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically,” he told reporters at the White House.
Many nuclear experts say the North has yet to prove it has mastered all technical hurdles including the ability deliver a nuclear warhead reliably atop an ICBM, but likely soon will.
“We don’t have to like it, but we’re going to have to learn to live with North Korea’s ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons,” said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Programme at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies.
South Korea responded by almost immediately launching three of its own missiles in a show of force. President Moon Jae-in expressed worry that North Korea’s growing missile threat could force the United States to attack the North before it masters a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, something experts say may be imminent.
“If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could reach from one continent to another, the situation can spiral out of control,” Mr Moon said at an emergency meeting in Seoul, according to his office. “We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike.”
Mr Trump spoke to Sinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, after the test. The two leaders agreed that China needed to play an increased role to tackle the crisis.