North Korea said it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile, triggering a US-led call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting after a launch seen as a challenge to US President Donald Trump.
The North’s leader Kim Jong-un “expressed great satisfaction over the possession of another powerful nuclear attack means which adds to the tremendous might of the country”, state news agency KCNA said on Monday.
The missile was launched on Sunday, near the western city of Kusong, and flew east about 500km before falling into the Sea of Japan (East Sea), South Korea’s defence ministry said.
Photos released by KCNA showed the missile blasting into the sky with a smiling Kim watching from the command centre, and standing on the launch field surrounded by dozens of cheering soldiers and scientists.
It said Kim “personally guided” preparations for Sunday’s test, which it described as a surface-to-surface medium long-range Pukguksong-2, a “Korean-style new type strategic weapon system”.
KCNA said the missile was powered by a solid-fuel engine, which requires a far shorter fuelling time than conventional liquid fuel-powered missiles, according to Yun Duk-min of the state-run Institute for Foreign Affairs and Security in Seoul.
“They leave little warning time and, therefore, pose greater threat to opponents,” he said, adding that such missiles are harder to detect before launch by satellite surveillance.
Pyongyang’s latest announcement was the first time a Pukguksong-2 has been mentioned, although last August it test-fired what it said was a submarine-launched ballistic missile marked as a Pukguksong-1, a name which translates as “North Star”.
Kim said at the time that the missile, which was launched towards Japan, put the US mainland and the Pacific within striking range.
North Korea claims it has developed an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland, but it has not tested one as yet.
The longest-range missile it has tested is the intermediate Musudan, which is theoretically capable of reaching US bases on Guam, but most have ended in failure, including one last October which exploded shortly after launch.
Designed for Trump
The South has said that Sunday’s launch was designed as a test for Trump, who responded to the provocation by pledging “100 percent” support for Washington’s key regional ally Japan.
“Today’s missile launch … is aimed at drawing global attention to the North by boasting its nuclear and missile capabilities,” Seoul’s defence ministry said Sunday.
“It is also believed that it was an armed provocation to test the response from the new US administration under President Trump,” it added.
The US, Japan and South Korea responded to the North’s confirmation by requesting an urgent UN Security Council meeting to discuss the launch.
The council is expected to hold consultations on Monday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country would be in range of a hostile North Korean missile launch, called the test “absolutely intolerable” during an impromptu press conference with Trump in Florida on Sunday.
North Korea is barred under UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology. But six sets of UN sanctions since Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006 have failed to halt its drive for what it insists are defensive weapons.
Last year, the country conducted two nuclear tests and numerous missile launches in its quest to develop a nuclear weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland.
South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, vowed a “corresponding punishment” in response to the launch, which came on the heels of a visit to Seoul by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis this month.
Mattis had warned Pyongyang that any nuclear attack would be met with an “effective and overwhelming” response.