North Korea said it has rockets capable of hitting the U.S., in the totalitarian country’s first response to the U.S. agreeing to let South Korea extend the range of its ballistic missiles.
The rockets are “within the scope of strike” of American military bases in Japan and Guam as well as the U.S. mainland, the state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted an unidentified National Defense Commission official as saying. North Korea “is prepared to counter nuclear attack and missile attack of the U.S., South Korea and all other following forces in kind,” according to the statement.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime routinely accuses the U.S. and South Korea of military provocations, saying earlier this month that American policy brought the peninsula closer to nuclear war. North Korea fired a long-range rocket that failed shortly after liftoff in April, further isolating the regime and costing it a food-aid deal with the U.S.
“North Korea hasn’t yet secured enough technology to strike the U.S. mainland,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “They’ll use the agreement for its excuses for additional nuclear tests or long-range missile tests.”
The South Korean won held its gains after the KCNA report, and was up 0.2 percent to 1,110.05 at 2:04 p.m. in Seoul. South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index fell less than 0.1 percent.
“It’s not like the North has developed a new missile, so investors are not taking it that seriously,” said Im Jeong Jae, a Seoul-based fund manager at Shinhan BNP Paribas Asset Management Co., which oversees about $29 billion. The last launch of North Korea’s long-range Taepodong-2 missile in 2009 also failed.
The North’s arsenal includes Scud, Rodong and Musudan missiles. The Musudan has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) and can carry a 650-kilogram (1,430-pound) warhead, according to South Korean estimates. The U.S. mainland is more than 7,000 kilometers from North Korea.
South Korea hasn’t seen any unusual North Korean troop movement, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said today.
“All previous North Korean attempts to build missiles that could reach the U.S. have failed, so their ability so far has not been confirmed,” Kim said by phone.
The U.S. agreed Oct. 5 to let South Korea extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers from 300 kilometers to protect against a possible attack from the North. The accord allows North Korean military facilities to be targeted, while limiting the payload to 500 kilograms for missiles traveling as far as 800 kilometers.
The U.S. military maintains almost 29,000 soldiers in South Korea and holds wartime operational control of all troops in the country.
Kim Jong Un became leader of North Korea in December after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. He inherited an economy one-fortieth the size of South Korea that has poured most of its resources into its 1.2-million strong military. There are more than 250 long-range artillery installations along the world’s most fortified border after the 1950-53 Korean War that ended without a peace treaty.
North Korea’s botched rocket launch in April scrapped a U.S. agreement to provide the impoverished state with 240,000 tons of food aid, and resulted in increased UN sanctions. Food insecurity and malnutrition affect about two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people, Jerome Sauvage, the UN resident coordinator in the North Korea capital Pyongyang, said in June.