The US has confirmed North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. An ICBM could reach Alaska and possibly Hawaii.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday confirmed North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time.
"The United States strongly condemns North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world," Tillerson said in a statement.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold on a meeting Wednesday at the request of the US, Japan and South Korea.
"Global action is required to stop a global threat," Tillerson said. "Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime."
The US military's initial assessment was that North Korea had test-launched an intermediate-range missile. It later confirmed it was an ICBM with two stages.
Testing an ICBM marks a major achievement for North Korea and a serious escalation of tensions with the United States and its allies.
Responding to the provocation with a show of force, US and South Korean troops on Wednesday conducted "deep strike" precision missile drills using the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and the Republic of Korea's Hyunmoo Missile II.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who backs engagement with the North but also sanctions to apply pressure, said Pyongyang's actions required a response that was "more than just a statement."
The commander of the Combined Forces in South Korea, US General Vincent Brooks, said the joint missile fire showed we "are able to change our choice when so ordered by our Alliance national leaders."
"Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war," he said.
North Korean state television announced early Tuesday that in a "landmark" test, a Hwasong-14 missile reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometers (1,741 miles) and flew 933 kilometers before landing in the Sea of Japan.
The rogue state said the launch was conducted at the sharpest possible angle, indicating that a different launch angle would give it a longer range.
Missile experts say the ICBM could reach as far as Alaska and Hawaii, but question whether North Korea has the competence to field an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on its cone that could survive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
However, North Korean state media said Wednesday the ICBM was capable of carrying a "large, heavy nuclear warhead."
The test verified "all the technological requirements including heat resistance and structural stability of the re-entry nosecone," the propaganda outlet said.
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 confrontation with the United States.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the launch with his generals. He was quoted by state media as saying the ICBM test was a 'gift' to 'American bastards' celebrating Independence Day.
Emboldened by the launch success, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was reported by state media as calling for more "gifts" to be sent to "American bastards," in an apparent reference to the US Independence Day holiday on July 4.
Kim reportedly "stressed that the protracted showdown with the US imperialists has reached its final phase and it is the time for the DPRK (North Korea) to demonstrate its mettle to the US, which is testing its will in defiance of its warning."
Crossing US red lines
The ICBM launch is a strong rebuke of US President Donald Trump, who in January said development of a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States "won't happen" on his watch.
He 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 declared all options, including military action, are on the table.
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."
The US has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea and regularly conducts joint military exercises that Pyongyang views as a threat.
Russia and China seek to de-escalate
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Russia and China called for a simultaneous freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile tests as well as 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.
It came as Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a two-day visit in Russia ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg later this week. The ICBM test is likely to be a major issue when G20 leaders meet.
The United Nations Security Council has placed multiple rounds of sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs as well as its horrendous human rights record.
cw/bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)