US President Donald Trump vowed to slap “major sanctions” on North Korea after the communist country test-launched its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile yet, with a range capable of striking Washington DC.
The North’s state-run news agency reported on Wednesday that leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the ICBM test and expressed his “great satisfaction”. He also extended “heartfelt gratitude to all those who took part in the development of the new type rocket weapon system”.
The missile reached an altitude of 4,500km, with analysts estimating it could fly a distance of 13,000km – potentially giving North Korea the ability to strike any US city it chooses to.
Just spoke to President XI JINPING of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2017
“Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!” the US president tweeted.
The missile launch in the early hours of Wednesday was the first since September 15, when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, eventually crashing into the Pacific Ocean.
The Korean Central News Agency described the launch in a report on Wednesday, using the initials of the country’s formal name, People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK).
“The ICBM Hwasong-15 soared to the highest altitude of 4,475km and made a flight over the distance of 950km for 53 minutes before making an accurate landing in the preset waters in the open sea,” it said.
“With this system, the DPRK has become possessed of another new-type inter-continental ballistic rocket weaponry system, capable of carrying super-heavy nuclear warhead and attacking the whole mainland of the US.”
US defence chief James Mattis confirmed the missile launch was unprecedented. “It went higher than any previous shot they’ve taken. It’s a research-and-development effort on their part to continue to build ballistic missiles, to threaten everywhere in the world, basically.”
One analyst, however, was sceptical about the new ICBM’s threat to the US or elsewhere.
“It’s a more capable missile but I think some people are exaggerating its capabilities. It cannot hit anywhere in the world. I don’t think it can even hit anywhere in the United States,” Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of IISS-Americas, told Al Jazeera.
“What’s interesting here is North Korea saying it’s reached its goal. This signals that maybe no further tests are needed in its judgement and, if so, that’s a good thing because we’ve been worried the next evolution might be a nuclear test in the Pacific. That would be very, very provocative,” Fitzpatrick said.
Along with a spate of missile tests, North Korea has also conducted several nuclear tests in the past year – including its most powerful blast in September – with all devices detonated underground. Pyongyang has threatened to conduct its next nuclear test in the atmosphere, which if successful would prove to the world it is indeed a nuclear power.
Hans Blix, a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told Al Jazeera the North’s weapons development is based on fears of a US invasion.
He noted the US recently deployed three aircraft carrier strike groups as well as stealth bombers off the Peninsula. There are still 28,500 American troops based in South Korea – a legacy of the 1950-53 war.
“We don’t know yet whether these tests indicate that they could have a missile that re-enters the atmosphere and set off a nuclear explosion. But whether they can do it now or later, they will have the capacity so the situation is a tense one,” said Blix.
“I think that the best hope still remains an open-ended suspension of testing on the North Korea side, and the suspension of the big military manoeuvres that scare the North Koreans that the US and South Koreans have mounted… This worries the North Koreans very much so they want to demonstrate their capacity to retaliate.”
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denounced the North’s latest missile test.
“China expresses its grave concerns about and opposition to North Korea’s missile launch activities,” Geng told a media briefing. “China wants North Korea to stop any action that escalates tension on the Korean Peninsula.”
The United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting at 20:00 GMT on Wednesday to discuss the North’s latest launch.
But support for the US position doesn’t appear to be forthcoming from China and Russia.