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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Latest North Korea missile test puts major US cities in range, say experts

Pyongyang claims intercontinental ballistic missile launched on Friday can carry nuclear warhead

North Korea claimed to have tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, earlier in July. AP Photo
North Korea claimed to have tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, earlier in July. AP Photo

North Korea's second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile has put a wide swath of the United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, within range of North Korean weapons, analysts say.

North Korea's state news agency said the Hwasong-14 missile launched early late on Friday had reached a maximum height of 3,725 kilometres and travelled 998km before accurately landing in waters off Japan.

The test was aimed at confirming the maximum range and other technical aspects of a missile capable of delivering a "large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead", the Korean Central News Agency said.

The flight data released by North Korea was similar to assessments by the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Analysts had estimated that the first ICBM tested by North Korea on July 4 could have reached Alaska, and said the latest missile appeared to extend that range significantly.

David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the global security programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that if reports of the missile's maximum altitude and flight time were correct, it would have a theoretical range of at least 10,400km. That means it could have reached Los Angeles, Denver or Chicago, depending on variables such as the size and weight of the warhead the missile was carrying.

The KCNA quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as saying that the launch reaffirmed the reliability of the country's ICBM system and an ability to fire at "random regions and locations at random times" with the "entire" US mainland now within range.

Mr Kim said the launch sent a "serious warning" to the United States, which has been "meaninglessly blowing its trumpet" with threats of war and stronger sanctions, the agency said.

It said the test confirmed important features of the missile system, such as the proper separation of the warhead and controlling its movement and detonation after atmospheric re-entry.

Immediately after the launch, US and South Korean forces conducted live-fire exercises. South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo called for the deployment of strategic US military assets — which usually means stealth bombers and aircraft carriers — as well as additional launchers of an advanced US anti-missile system.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the missile launched on Friday flew for about 45 minutes — about five minutes longer than the first. The missile was launched on very high trajectory, which limited the distance it travelled, and landed west of Japan's island of Hokkaido.

The Hwasong 14 ICBM test-fired earlier this month was also launched at a very steep angle, a technique called lofting, and reached a height of more than 2,500km before splashing down in the ocean 930km away.

South Korea's military said the missile was launched from North Korea's northern Jagang province near the border with China. President Moon Jae-in presided over an emergency meeting of the national security council, which called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and stronger sanctions on North Korea.

President Donald Trump condemned the missile test as a threat to the world, and rejected North Korea's claim that nuclear weapons ensure its security. "In reality, they have the opposite effect," he said.

Mr Trump said the weapons and tests "further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people". He vowed to "take all necessary steps" to ensure the security of the US and its allies.

Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida said he had told US secretary of state Rex Tillerson that the second missile test greatly increased the threat from Pyongyang. He said two sides agreed to consider all means necessary to exert the utmost pressure on North Korea. They reiterated calls for new sanctions and to work closely together with South Korea along with efforts by China and Russia.

China, meanwhile, urged its ally North Korea to abide by UN Security Council resolutions and halt any moves that could escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Washington and its allies have watched with growing concern as Pyongyang has made significant progress toward its goal of having all of the US within range of its missiles to counter what it labels as US aggression. There are other hurdles, including building nuclear warheads to fit on those missiles and ensuring reliability. But many analysts have been surprised by how quickly Mr Kim has developed North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes despite several rounds of UN sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country's economy.

Mr Trump has said he will not allow North Korea to obtain an ICBM that can deliver a nuclear warhead. But this week, the Defence Intelligence Agency reportedly concluded that the North will have a reliable ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear weapon as early as next year, two years sooner than the agency's earlier estimate.

On the streets of Pyongyang, North Koreans welcomed the news of their country's latest missile test while state media broadcast images of a projectile launched into the night sky. Mr Kim was shown with military commanders near a mobile missile launcher.

"I feel really confident. From now on, we will develop and have the strongest weapons, strategic weapons, so we can safeguard our sovereignty and independence, so that we can end up winning against the imperialists and against America," said Pak Gi-nam, a student.

North Korea celebrates July 27 as Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War Day, marking the signing of the armistice that ende the 1950-53 Korean War. That armistice is yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically in a state of war.