North Korea has claimed that it successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile which flew for 39 minutes. Russia and China have called for a freeze on nuclear and missile tests.
North Korean state television announced on Tuesday that the "landmark" test of a Hwasong-14 missile was overseen by the state's leader Kim Jong-Un. The missile reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometers (1,741 miles) and flew 933 kilometers, the TV report claimed.
The North was "a strong nuclear power state" and had "a very powerful ICBM that can strike any place in the world," the TV announcer said.
South Korea's military said on Tuesday that North Korea had fired the missile into the Sea of Japan from a northern province near the border with China.
"North Korea fired an unidentified ballistic missile into the East Sea from the vicinity of Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, at around 9:40 a.m. (0040 UTC)," the news agency Yonhap quoted the Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held a national security council meeting, said the missile was thought to be an intermediate range type. However, he said the military was also investigating the possibility it was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Russia and China called for a simultaneous freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile tests, and US-South Korea military exercises.
"The two sides propose that the DPRK (North Korea) as a voluntary political decision declares a moratorium on testing nuclear explosive devices and ballistic rocket launches, and the US and South Korea refrain from carrying out large-scale joint exercises," the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries said in a joint statement.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.
North Korea has long wanted to build a rocket that could deliver a warhead to the US. There are indications that the latest rocket flew for longer than previous launches and might have been capable of reaching Alaska.
There have been doubts expressed by experts that North Korea has the capacity to make a nuclear weapon small enough to fit onto a missile nose cone. The technology needed for it to survive re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere may also currently be beyond the North's competence.
The launch is the latest in a series of missile tests in recent months by the nuclear-armed rogue regime that have raised the prospect of military conflict with the United States.
Japan's defense ministry said the missile may have landed in its exclusive economic zone - an area extending 200 nautical miles from the coast. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters: "This launch clearly shows that the threat has grown."
President Moon and US President Donald Trump met last week for the first time, focusing much of their discussions on how to deal with North Korea. Trump tweeted his response to the latest launch, saying he found it "hard to believe" South Korea and Japan would tolerate the situation for much longer. He urged China to "end this nonsense once and for all."
Moon advocates for engagement with the North but also sanctions. Pyongyang's continued missile tests have threatened that policy.
Trump has sought to enlist China, North Korea's main economic partner, to turn the screws on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.
However, he has recently shown frustration with China's inability or unwillingness to rein in Pyongyang, suggesting the era of "strategic patience” was coming to an end. The US has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea.
The United Nations Security Council has placed multiple rounds of sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as for its horrendous human rights record.
jm/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)