North Korea says preparing for ‘long’ confrontation with U.S. after massive new ICBM test

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SEOUL, March 25 (Reuters) – North Korea’s latest launch was a huge, new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), state media reported on Friday, in a test leader Kim Jong Un said was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any U.S. military moves.

It was the first full ICBM test by nuclear-armed North Korea since 2017, and flight data indicated the missile flew higher and longer than any of North Korea’s previous tests, before crashing into the sea west of Japan. 

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows Kim Jong Un (C), general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, Jang Chang-ha (L rear), Chief of the North’s Academy of National Defense, and Kim Jong-sik (R), the Deputy Director of the Munitions Industry Department, during the test-launch of a new type of inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasongpho-17 of the DPRK strategic forces that was conducted on 24 March 2022 (issued 25 March 2022). EPA-EFE/KCNA

Dubbed the Hwasong-17, the ICBM is the largest liquid-fuelled missile ever launched by any country from a road-mobile launcher, analysts said. 

Kim ordered the test because of the “daily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsula” and the “inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war,” state news agency KCNA reported.

“The strategic forces of the DPRK are fully ready to thoroughly curb and contain any dangerous military attempts of the U.S. imperialists,” Kim said while personally overseeing the launch, according to KCNA. DPRK are the initials of North Korea’s official name.

North Korea’s return to major weapons tests capable of potentially striking the United States poses a direct challenge to U.S. President Joe Biden as he responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And it raises the prospect of a new crisis following the election of a new, conservative South Korean administration that has pledged a more muscular military strategy to counter Pyongyang.

South Korea’s President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who will speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping later on Friday, said North Korea had nothing to gain from provocation. China is North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbour.

The launch drew condemnation from leaders in the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Kim said the test would help convince the world of the modern features of the country’s strategic forces.

“Any forces should be made to be well aware of the fact that they will have to pay a very dear price before daring to attempt to infringe upon the security of our country,” he said, according to KCNA.

There was no immediate comment from the White House or State Department on Kim’s remarks.

NEW SANCTIONS

Responding to North Korea’s banned ICBM launch through the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will be far more difficult now than after the last test in 2017.

World powers on the council are currently at odds over the Ukraine war, making the kind of sanctions that were imposed on North Korea by the UNSC after the 2017 test a far more complicated process. 

The U.N. Security Council will meet publicly at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Friday to discuss the launch. On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Pyongyang “to desist from taking any further counter-productive actions.”

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions on two Russian companies, a Russian and a North Korean individual, and North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Science Foreign Affairs Bureau for transferring sensitive items to North Korea’s missile programme.

It named the Russian entities as the Ardis Group of Companies LLC (Ardis Group) and PFK Profpodshipnik LLC, and the Russian individual as Igor Aleksandrovich Michurin. It named the North Korean as Ri Sung Chol.

“These measures are part of our ongoing efforts to impede the DPRK’s ability to advance its missile program and they highlight the negative role Russia plays on the world stage as a proliferator to programs of concern,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

NEW MISSILE

Photos released by state media showed a massive missile, painted black with a white nosecone, rising on a column of flame from a launch vehicle.

The Hwasong-17 flew for 1,090 km (681 miles) to a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km (3,905 miles) and precisely hit a target in the sea, KCNA reported. Those numbers are similar to data reported by Japan and South Korea.

KCNA called the successful test a “striking demonstration of great military muscle,” while Kim said it was a “miraculous” and “priceless” victory by the Korean people.

North Korea first unveiled the previously unseen ICBM at an unprecedented pre-dawn military parade in October 2020, with analysts noting it appeared “considerably larger” than North Korea’s last new ICBM, the Hwasong-15, which was test fired in November 2017.

It was displayed a second time at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang in October 2021.

Officials in Seoul and Washington have previously said launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 involved parts of the Hwasong-17 ICBM system, likely in preparation for eventually conducting a full test like the one on Thursday.

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