The United States demands direct talks as North Korea confirms the largest missile test since 2017

North Korea confirmed on Monday that it had tested a Hwasong-12 medium-range ballistic missile (IRBM), state media reported, as US and South Korean officials warned that Sunday’s launch could lead to resumption of long-range weapons and nuclear bomb tests.

It was the seventh carried out by North Korea this month and the first time a nuclear-capable missile of that size had been fired since 2017.

The launch was first reported by South Korean and Japanese authorities on Sunday, which condemned it as a threat to regional security.

“The inspection firing test was conducted for the purpose of selectively inspecting the medium-range ballistic missile Hwasong-12 from ground to ground and verifying the overall accuracy of this weapon system,” the North Korean state news agency KCNA said. North Korea has previously said that Hwasong-12 can carry a “large heavy nuclear warhead”.

The KCNA said that the missile launch was carried out in such a way as to ensure the security of neighboring countries, and that the test warhead was equipped with a camera that took pictures while in space.

Photos released by state media showed space-based images of North Korea and the surrounding areas through a round camera lens. North Korea took such photos for the first time in 2017, analysts said.

Leader Kim Jong Un was not reported to have taken part in the test, which was at least the seventh launch in January, one of the busiest ever for North Korea’s advanced missile program.

On Sunday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the launch would take North Korea one step closer to completely abolishing a self-imposed moratorium on testing its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Kim has said he is no longer bound by the moratorium, which included a halt to nuclear tests and was announced in 2018 amid a flurry of diplomacy and summits with then-US President Donald Trump.

North Korea suggested this month that it could restart these test activities because the United States and its allies had shown no signs of relinquishing their “hostile policies.”

Major missiles The United States shares concerns that North Korea’s escalating missile tests could be a precursor to resumption of nuclear and ICBM tests, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday night, urging Pyongyang to join the talks without preconditions.

“They are looking to take action, which we believe is fundamentally destabilizing, as a way to increase pressure,” the official said at a briefing with reporters in Washington. “I think there is probably a component that is also validating the systems they have developed and further refining them.”

It is unclear whether IRBMs such as Hwasong-12 were included in Kim’s moratorium, but they have not been tested since 2017 either.

That year, North Korea tested Hwasong-12 at least six times, achieving three successful flights and three failures.

Controversially, in two of these tests, North Korea launched the missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

In Sunday’s test, North Korea said it fired the missile at an elevated trajectory “for safety in neighboring countries.”

The test “confirmed the accuracy, safety and operational efficiency of the Hwasong-12 type weapon system produced,” the KCNA said.

Hwasong-12 has an estimated range of 4,500 kilometers (2,796 miles), which would put the US territory of Guam and the far western tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain within reach, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies ( CSIS).

By comparison, the largest, most powerful missile North Korea has ever tested is the Hwasong-15 ICBM, with an estimated range of 8,500-13,000 km, which can threaten anywhere in the United States, CSIS said. Hwasong-15 was tested once, in November 2017.

(REUTERS)

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