North Korea tests suspected ICBM with range to reach US mainland

US Vice President Kamala Harris convenes emergency meeting of leaders at regional summit in Bangkok after weapon lands in seas off the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

a man walks past a giant TV screen showing a missile launch. The strap shows ICBM
North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons launches this year [File: Heo Ran/Reuters]

North Korea has fired what neighbouring countries said appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a day after launching a smaller missile and warning of “fiercer military responses” to the United States boosting its security presence in the region.

Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the weapon, which reached an altitude of 6,000km (3,730 miles), was capable of travelling as far as 15,000km (9,320 milles), giving it the range to reach the mainland of the United States.

The test missile travelled 1,000km (622 miles) on a lofted trajectory, and landed about 200km (124 miles) west of Oshima-Oshima island in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, according to Japanese officials.

“We naturally lodged a strong protest against North Korea, which has repeated its provocations with unprecedented frequency,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Thailand, where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting. His remarks were televised live in Japan.

“We have told (Pyongyang) that we absolutely cannot tolerate such actions.”

South Korea’s defence ministry also described the missile as a probable ICBM, which is designed to carry a nuclear warhead, and said it was launched at about 10.15am (01:15 GMT).

The South’s President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered officials to push for strong sanctions during an emergency national security council meeting on Friday, as the White House said Vice President Kamala Harris, who is in Bangkok at a regional summit, would convene a meeting of world leaders to discuss the launch.

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the launch “needlessly raises tensions” and shows that North Korea is prioritizing unlawful weapons programs over the wellbeing of its people. “Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement,” Watson said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also strongly condemned North Korea’s launch of another intercontinental ballistic missile and reiterated his call on Pyongyang “to immediately desist from taking any further provocative actions,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Guterres also called on North Korea to comply with Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile launches and take “immediate steps to resume dialogue leading to sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Haq said.

“Pariah state behavior”

North Korea has this year carried out an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests, which are banned under the resolutions imposed over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons programmes, and there are concerns it may soon carry out its first nuclear test since 2017.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera that more countries needed to hold the North accountable for its actions, noting the country was “developing illegal nuclear weapons and missiles, plotting long-term struggle against its neighbor, and egregiously abusing human rights.”

“Its pariah state behavior is not just a problem for Washington and its allies but a growing global threat,” Easley said in an email.

After a meeting last week on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, leaders of Japan, South Korea and the US warned Pyongyang against conducting such a test, with US President Joe Biden reiterating that Washington’s commitment to defend Seoul and Tokyo was “backed by the full range of capabilities, including nuclear”.

The leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol also “strongly condemned” North Korea’s “unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches” and pledged to “forge still-closer trilateral links, in the security realm and beyond”.

On Thursday, North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile as its foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, warned of “fiercer military responses” to US moves to boost its military presence in the region, saying Washington was taking a “gamble it will regret”.

In a statement carried by state media, Choe condemned a Sunday trilateral summit of Japan, South Korea and the US during which the countries’ leaders criticised Pyongyang’s weapons tests and pledged greater security cooperation.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters