WASHINGTON – North Korea has claimed it successfully tested a ground-to-ground mid-to-long-range missile Saturday, a launch that is seen as an expected leap forward in the nation’s missile capabilities and one that puts the U.S. territory of Guam potentially reliably within reach.
The missile, called a Hwasong-12 by North Korea, is “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” according to North Korean state-media.
The missile was launched with a high trajectory in “consideration of the security of neighboring countries,” according to North Korea, sailing some 490 miles before landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The White House noted in a statement that the missile landed closer to Russia than Japan.
If fired on a maximum trajectory, it could have flown a distance of about 2800 miles, enabling the country to strike U.S. military assets on the Western Pacific island of Guam, according to John Schilling, an aerospace analyst. Guam has two strategic U.S. bases-Naval Base Guam in Santa Rita and Andersen Air Force Base in Yigo. Guam also has the Army National Guard.
Schilling, in an analysis on the website 38 North, a North Korea tracking project associated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said that the test “may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).”
North Korea may be testing subsystems of an ICBM to avoid heavy repercussions from the Donald Trump administration, which has taken a tough tone about the nation’s weapons program, he said.
“North Korea has been a flagrant menace for far too long,” the White House said in a statement Saturday, calling for allies to “implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea.”
In the same statement, the White House said that “with the missile impacting so close to Russian soil… the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that while Russia opposes any additional countries acquiring nuclear weapons, the global community should engage North Korea and not threaten it.
“We consider that nuclear and missile tests are unacceptable and there is the need to resume dialogue with North Korea, to stop intimidating it and find peaceful solutions to problems,” Putin said, according to state-run TASS news agency.
The test from North Korea came days after a new president entered office in South Korea, Moon Jae-in, who favors dialogue to improve ties with North Korea.
“The possibility of dialogue is open, but provocations must be met with stern responses to prevent North Korea from making misjudgments,” Moon said Sunday, according to The Korean Herald.
The launch came on the same day that China, North Korea’s closest ally and economic partner, was set to launch a global forum dedicated to it’s One Belt, One Road trade initiative.
North Korean state-media KCNA said leader Kim Jong Un cheered the missile launch, and hugged and thanked the scientists behind the missile launch. Kim, according the KCNA, said that nuclear weapons are not the exclusive right of the U.S.
“If the U.S. awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK, it will not escape from the biggest disaster in the history, he said, strongly warning the U.S. should not to disregard or misjudge the reality that its mainland and Pacific operation region are in the DPRK’s sighting range for strike and that it has all powerful means for retaliatory strike,” KCNA said of Kim Jong Un, using an acronym for the nation’s official name.