North Korea says missile could carry nuclear warhead

A TV news program shows a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea on Sunday test-launched a ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean, Japanese and U.S. militaries said. The launch is a direct challenge to the new South Korean president elected four days ago and comes as U.S., Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

(CNN)–North Korea said Sunday’s test-fire of a ground-to-ground ballistic missile proved the missile is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, state news agency KCNA said in a report Monday.

The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, supervised the launch of the Hwasong-12 missile that reached an altitude of 1,312 miles and flew 489 miles, KCNA said. That’s higher and closer to Russia than other North Korean tests, according to US officials.

The test was “aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” KCNA said.

North Korea warned the United States not to provoke it, saying the “US mainland and Pacific operations” are within range of North Korean missiles, KCNA said.

US officials said the missile launched near the city of Kusong, in western North Korea, flew across the country and into the Sea of Japan/East Sea, hitting the water about 60 miles from Vladivostok in eastern Russia.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said the missile reached an altitude of 1,240 miles and flew for 30 minutes.

“It is possibly a new type of missile,” Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said.

The high altitude and longer flight time indicate a missile with an extended range, according to David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Writing on his organization’s blog, Wright pointed out that if the missile did reach that height and fly that long, it could reach the US territory of Guam in the Pacific.

Guam is home to Andersen Air Force Base, through which the US Air Force rotates heavy bombers including B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.

Sunday’s missile test “points to a new threshold of capability potentially crossed,” said Euan Graham, an expert on North Korea at Australia’s Lowy Institute.

Tong Zhao, an analyst with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said if the missile does have the range to hit Guam, it could give North Korea “a regional nuclear deterrence,” meaning it might not need to pursue an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which could reach the US mainland.

But Graham said it could be a stepping stone to just that.

North Korean engineers “may well be able to draw warhead re-entry data from that which is applicable to their ICBM ambitions,” he said.

Russia responded to North Korea’s test by putting its far eastern air defenses on high alert, according to a report from the RIA-Novosti news agency.

“We cannot fail to understand that the territory of Russia is not only an object for attack but also a place where a missile may fall. In order to protect ourselves from possible incidents, we will keep our air defense systems in the Far East in a state of increased combat readiness,” Viktor Ozerov, head of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, is quoted as saying.

Sunday’s test is the first from North Korea since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office last week. Moon has advocated dialogue with North Korea to denuclearize.
Moon said the missile test violates UN Security Council resolutions and called it a severe challenge to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the world, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.
South Korea needs to show the North that even though talks are possible, it will only be possible if North Korea changes its attitude, the President told staff.
He said South Korea will respond to provocations.

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