North Korea Claims Its First Successful Launch of an ICBM

  • Launch risks serious escalation with U.S., Asian neighbors
  • State’s aim is capability to deliver a nuclear attack on U.S.

North Korea Claims Successful ICBM Launch

North Korea said Tuesday it successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, a claim that brings the isolated state closer to its aim of building a device capable of hitting the continental U.S. with a nuclear warhead.

The missile was a newly-developed ICBM that reached an altitude of 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles) and was fired at its highest angle, an announcer said on North Korean state television. She said the projectile that flew for 39 minutes could hit "anywhere in the world.”

Video image of a missile launch aired by North Korea’s KRT, July 4.

Source: KRT via AP Video

Leader Kim Jong Un signed the order for the test of the missile called a Hwasong-14, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectile flew about 930 kilometers. Japan’s Defense Ministry said it reached an altitude that “greatly exceeded” 2,500 kilometers.

Neither the U.S., South Korea nor Japan have confirmed whether it was an ICBM. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the country was examining North Korea’s claim.

Either way, the launch suggests an advancement in North Korea’s capability and risks fresh friction with its neighbors and the U.S. It comes ahead of a planned meeting this week between President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Germany.

China Tensions

“It’s an ICBM for sure,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

“The North Koreans seem to have made quite a lot of progress in the past year,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate until we can measure everything carefully, but it’s possible that it could strike targets in the continental U.S.”

Trump responded on Tuesday via Twitter to the missile launch, asking of Kim "does this guy have anything better to do with his life?"

"Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer,” Trump said. “Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

Russia and China issued a joint statement calling for a halt to North Korea’s weapons tests and for the U.S. and South Korea to stop large-scale military drills, in order to create room for talks, with Xi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in Moscow. Still, China’s prior calls for such a deal have been rebuffed by both the U.S. and North Korea.

“We agreed to promote our shared initiative” to seek a “parallel freezing” of military actions on both sides, Putin said after his talks with Xi.

The countries in their statement expressed concern at North Korea’s claim to have tested an ICBM. Still, “the escalation of military and political tension in the region, fraught with the emergence of an armed conflict, requires the international community to resolve the situation peacefully,” they said, urging all sides “to abandon provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric.”

Trump response: "Does this guy have anything better to do?" (Scroll to 1:47)

Source: Bloomberg

There are already renewed tensions between the U.S. and China about how best to rein in Kim, with Trump saying Xi has not done enough to curtail his neighbor and ally. China is North Korea’s main economic lifeline but fears too strong a squeeze on the regime could risk its collapse, leading both to a refugee crisis and a greater U.S. military presence on its doorstep.

"The ICBM launch could make an enormous impact on China-U.S. relations and even cause severe damage,” said Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Party School. “The leaders from both sides need to be very careful to not let North Korea manage their relationship.”

“It’s not important if the North is making a real claim or not,” Zhang added. “The launch shows that they keep moving forward.”

All Options

The U.S. president has said all options including military force are available against Pyongyang, though North Korea’s neighbors have warned a strike could be disastrous for North Asia, given the risk of retaliation. South Korea’s new government has also urged talks with Kim, a stance that puts it potentially at odds with Trump’s administration, which says negotiations can only happen if Kim halts his nuclear program.

Read more: A QuickTake Q&A explores the options for dealing with North Korea

South Korea will seek stronger sanctions against North Korea if the missile proves to be an ICBM, a presidential official told reporters Tuesday, adding it will take several days to analyze the launch. President Moon Jae-in still wants to pursue talks with North Korea to ease tensions, the official said.

The North Korean jitters hit markets in Asia. Japan’s benchmark Topix index finished the day 0.3 percent lower after wiping out earlier gains of as much as 0.7 percent, while the yen rose against the dollar. South Korea’s Kospi stocks index fell 0.6 percent.

David Wright, a co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote on the group’s website that the projectile could have a maximum range of about 6,700 kilometers with the potential to reach all of Alaska. That range, he wrote, wouldn’t be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii.

KCNA said North Korea was now a "full-fledged nuclear power.”

"The DPRK will fundamentally put an end to the U.S. nuclear war threat and blackmail and reliably defend the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region," it said, using an abbreviation for the nation’s formal title.

— With assistance by Min Jeong Lee, Sohee Kim, Hooyeon Kim, and Henry Meyer

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