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North Korea test-launches new, massive missile capable of reaching Washington

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/24/2022 Michelle Lee, Min Joo Kim, Julia Mio Inuma
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 24, 2022. © Ahn Young-Joon/AP People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 24, 2022.

TOKYO — North Korea fired its new monster missile Thursday, its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile to date and one capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States — ratcheting up tensions amid stalled nuclear negotiations.

It is Pyongyang’s first ICBM test since 2017. Although North Korea has conducted a series of short- and intermediate-range tests in recent months in line with a weapons development schedule, an ICBM test was considered a red line by many countries monitoring its actions.

Now, with the world focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Pyongyang has tested a weapon that would easily reach the U.S. East Coast, experts say. The new Hwasong-17 travels farther than any ICBM that North Korea has tested so far, and is believed to be the world’s largest mobile ICBM designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads.

The launch drew a strong condemnation from the White House, which called it a “brazen violation” of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts Thursday and agreed to coordinate on a response, including potential new sanctions, according to the Japanese and South Korean governments.

The U.S., Japanese and South Korean ambassadors to the United Nations met following the launch and called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to address the escalating situation.

“We urge all countries to hold the DPRK accountable for such violations and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, referring to the country by its official initialism. “The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions.”

A woman walks along a sidewalk past a TV displaying a news program on North Korea's missile launch Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Tokyo. © Eugene Hoshiko/AP A woman walks along a sidewalk past a TV displaying a news program on North Korea's missile launch Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Tokyo.

For weeks, officials had warned that North Korea may test its new Hwasong-17, which North Korea revealed at a Workers’ Party of Korea military parade in 2020.

In a statement released Friday morning through state media, North Korea said it had tested the missile out of concern for the “daily-increasing military tension of the Korean peninsula and the inevitability of the lasting confrontation with U.S. imperialism accompanied with nuclear threat.”

As in the 2017 ICBM launch, the missile went up at very steep trajectory that still shows it could reach the United States — and this time it went even higher and farther. According to Japanese and South Korean estimates, it traveled as far as 683 miles (1,100 km) and as high as 3,850 miles (6,200 km). North Korea said it reached a height of 3,882 miles (6,247 km). It flew for 71 minutes — 17 minutes longer than the Hwasong-15 test in 2017.

If the missile were launched on a normal trajectory, it would reach the East Coast of the United States, Japanese media reported, citing unnamed officials.

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The test was conducted at the Pyongyang International Airport, North Korea said, which was the location of two recent launches believed to be ICBM-related.


Video: North Korea Test-Launches ‘Largest Intercontinental Ballistic Missile’ to Date (Money Talks News)

In response to the launch, South Korea fired its own missiles from land, sea and air to demonstrate its “capability and willingness to respond immediately and punish,” the military said.

North Korea may be gearing up for a full ICBM test, when U.S. attention is focused elsewhere

The test comes at a particularly volatile time on the Korean Peninsula, which is in the midst of a presidential transition under an incoming leader, Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to be tougher on North Korea than President Moon Jae-in’s pro-engagement administration. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is riveted by the crisis in Eastern Europe.

“The action threatens the peace and security for our country, region and the international community, and is absolutely unacceptable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said shortly after landing in Brussels for a Group of Seven meeting. “Moving forward, working together with the U.S. and South Korea and relevant countries, we will consider future actions including sanctions.”

In 2018, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un unilaterally declared a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, while starting a flurry of diplomacy involving summit meetings with the leaders of South Korea and the United States. North Korea had recently warned it may lift its own moratorium after talks bogged down, and Thursday’s launch did just that.

In a statement, Moon said Kim “broke the moratorium on the ICBM that he promised to the international community, causing a serious threat to the Korean Peninsula, the surrounding region and the international community.”

Before Thursday, authorities had said North Korea launched parts of the Hwasong-17 on Feb. 26 and March 4. During those tests, the system was not launched at its full range or capability, officials in Seoul and Washington warned.

Pyongyang had not specified the types of rockets used in those tests, and said the launches were for developing a spy satellite system.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the Politburo of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, Jan. 19, 2022 in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Jan. 20, 2022. © Kcna/Via Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the Politburo of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, Jan. 19, 2022 in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Jan. 20, 2022.

Military tensions have been mounting on the Korean Peninsula amid an uptick in North Korea’s weapons testing activity since the beginning of the year. Thursday’s launch came just eight days after a suspected ballistic missile fired from a Pyongyang airport exploded midair.

South Korea, meanwhile, plans to conduct its own test of a solid-fuel space rocket this month, in line with its plans to develop military satellites to monitor North Korea. In April, there will also be joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which North Korea views as “hostile.”

Under new, conservative president, South Korea is poised to adopt a more hawkish foreign policy

Thursday’s launch arrived as nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States remain deadlocked since a summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump collapsed over sanctions relief.

The U.N. Security Council slapped a set of draconian sanctions on North Korea after the spate of nuclear and missile tests in 2017. Thursday’s launch comes about two weeks after the U.S. Treasury Department rolled out new sanctions against North Korea, amid signs of the country’s preparations for an ICBM test.

Despite North Korea’s missile tests since autumn, China and Russia — two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — have declined to issue new sanctions against North Korea, saying that the country had not tested any long-range missiles.

Kim reported from Seoul.

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