A TV shows an image of North Korea's missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on Monday. AP
North Korea confirmed on Monday it test-launched a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile, the same weapon it once threatened to target the US territory of Guam, the North’s most significant weapon launch in years, as Washington plans steps to show its commitment to its Asian allies.
The launch of the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) was first reported by South Korean and Japanese authorities on Sunday. It was the seventh test conducted by North Korea this month and the first time a nuclear-capable missile of that size has been launched since 2017.
Sunday’s launch could be a prelude to bigger provocations by North Korea such as nuclear and long-range missile tests that pose a direct threat to the US mainland, as the North tries to further pressure the Biden administration and react to potential further sanctions.
North Korea has said it is open to diplomacy, but that Washington's overtures are undermined by its support for sanctions and joint military drills and arms buildups in South Korea and the region.
Amid a flurry of diplomacy in 2018, including summits with then-US President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his nuclear force complete and said he would suspend nuclear testing and launches of the country's longest-range missiles.
Some experts say North Korea’s recent testing spree is meant to win sanction relief or international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the purpose of the test was verifying the overall accuracy of the Hwasong-12 missile that is being deployed in its military.
KCNA published two sets of combination photos - one showing the missile rising from a launcher and soaring into space and the other showing North Korea and nearby areas that it said were photographed from space by a camera installed at the missile’s warhead.
North Korea has conducted a record number of such tests this year, and also fired hundreds of artillery shells into the sea more recently as South Korea and the United States staged exercises, some of which involved Japan.
The statement suggests North Korea might perform additional launches or even test a nuclear device soon as it pushes to modernize its arsenal and increase pressure on the Biden administration while nuclear diplomacy remains stalled.
Kim oversaw the first test firing of a “new-type large-calibre multiple launch guided rocket system” on Wednesday, North Korean state media reported.
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