North Korea Fires ICBM, Issues New Warnings to US

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(Bloomberg) -- North Korea confirmed it fired an intercontinental ballistic missile Saturday and issued new warnings to the US, after parading a record number of rockets through the streets of Pyongyang designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the American mainland.

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The high-angle launch of the Hwasong-15 was conducted by North Korea on Saturday, with the missile reaching a maximum altitude of 5,768.5 kilometers and flying for 989 kilometers, the official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday. It said that the surprise drill is “a guarantee for and a clear proof of the sure reliability of our powerful physical nuclear deterrent.”

“The US would be well-advised to stop saying that it is not hostile toward the DPRK and the door to dialogue is open, hoodwinking the world,” Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said in comments carried by KCNA on Sunday. “It should stop all the actions posing threats to the security of our state.”

While Kim also warned South Korea to reconsider the consequences of its “reckless acts,” she added that “our ICBM will not be aimed at Seoul.”

The White House condemned the launch, saying the US “will take all necessary measures” to ensure the security of the homeland, South Korea and Japan.

While the US Indo-Pacific Command “has assessed it did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel, or territory, or to our allies, this launch needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the missile fired by North Korea Saturday landed within the country’s exclusive economic zone off Hokkaido. The government’s top spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said there have been no reports of damage.

“The latest launch was an outrageous act that was an escalatory provocation against the entire international community,” Kishida said.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea launched a longer-range missile from an area near Pyongyang’s international airport at about 5:22 p.m. Japan’s Coast Guard said the missile was seen falling at about 6:27 pm.

This indicates the missile flew for more than an hour, which would be similar to the flight times of other North Korean ICBM tests. KCNA on Sunday reported that the missile flew for 4,015 seconds, or nearly 67 minutes. The US Indo-Pacific command called on North Korea “to refrain from any further unlawful and destabilizing acts.”

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Friday threatened the US with “unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions” if it went ahead with joint military exercises with South Korea. In late January, the US and South Korea announced plans to step up their joint military exercises, a move that has in the past prompted threats and weapons tests by North Korea.

US, South Korea to Bolster Military Drills That Anger Kim

North Korea’s last test of an ICBM was in November. It flew for more than an hour, reaching an altitude of around 6,000 kilometers and a distance of about 1,000 kilometers. Kim’s daughter, thought to be about 10 years old, was on hand for the launch and the event marked her first official appearance in state media.

“Provocations are unlikely to abate, so long as Kim has his nuclear weapons program and the appetite to indulge the regime’s penchant for weapons testing and expansion remains,” said Soo Kim, a former CIA Korea analyst who is now a policy practice area lead at US-based management consulting firm LMI.

Kim pledged to increase his nuclear arsenal in the new year to stifle what he called US and South Korean hostile acts, in a policy-setting address released on Jan. 1 where he left almost no opening for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks.

Kim Jong Un Puts New ICBM, And a Potential Heir, on Parade

The latest launch comes after North Korea put on its biggest display of ICBMs during a military parade in Pyongyang earlier this month. Kim oversaw the event, and the attendance of his daughter signaled there’s another generation ready to take over the Cold War’s last continuous family dynasty and it will depend on nuclear weapons for its survival.

Images from the parade included 11 of its Hwasong-17 missiles, which experts say is the world’s largest road-worthy ICBM, and five canisters for an apparent new solid-fuel ICBM.

All of the ICBMs were on mobile launchers, and the most of their type ever displayed at a parade. This increases his chances of a strike that could overwhelm US missile defenses. The solid-propellant missiles would be easier to move and quicker to fire than the state’s current arsenal of liquid-fuel ICBMs, giving Washington less time to shoot one down.

“The test launch was only a matter of time since Pyongyang showcased its apparent new solid-fuel ICBM at the February 8 military parade,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for East Asian Cooperation at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea. “If the launch of the very same ICBM was a success at first go, that would be a remarkable accomplishment.”

North Korea’s state media on Saturday reported Kim took his daughter to watch a soccer match as part of the celebrations for North Korea’s Day of the Shining Star to mark the birthday of Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader.

Last year, Kim Jong Un’s regime test fired more than 70 ballistic missiles, the most in his decade in power and in defiance of United Nations resolutions that prohibit the launches. The North Korean leader has been modernizing his inventory of missiles over the past several years to make them easier to hide, quicker to deploy and more difficult to shoot down.

North Korea could raise regional tensions even higher with its first nuclear test since 2017. The US, South Korea and Japan have said for months that Pyongyang appears ready to test a device at any time and the three have pledged stern and coordinated punishments if Kim goes ahead with an atomic test.

But the North Korean leader is finding space to ramp up provocations and conduct tit-for-tat military moves against the US and its allies as President Joe Biden focuses on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The US push to isolate Vladimir Putin, coupled with increasing animosity toward China, has allowed Kim to strengthen his nuclear deterrent without fear of facing more sanctions at the UN Security Council.

There’s almost no chance Russia or China, which have veto power at the council, would support any measures against North Korea, as they did in 2017 following a series of weapons tests that prompted former President Donald Trump to warn of “fire and fury.”

--With assistance from Sohee Kim, Sangmi Cha and Emi Nobuhiro.

(Updates with comments from Kim Yo-Jung starting in third paragraph.)

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