Seoul/ Tokyo/ Washington: North Korea fired a missile on Friday that experts said was capable of hitting Los Angeles and other U.S. cities and the United States and South Korea responded by staging a joint missile exercise.
North Korea confirmed the launch on Saturday, with its official news agency saying it was a "stern warning" for the United States. President Kim Jong Un said the missile showed that all of the United States was within striking distance but U.S. authorities characterized that as an exaggeration.
The administration of U.S. president Donald Trump, which has branded North Korea the "most urgent and dangerous threat to peace," condemned the launch as reckless.
"By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people," president Donald Trump said in a statement. "The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region."
South Korean defense minister Song Young-moo said at a news conference on Saturday Seoul would prepare independent measures to curb the nuclear threat from the North.
The unusual late-night launch added to exasperation in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo over Pyongyang's continuing development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Friday's test prompted U.S. and South Korean military officials to discuss military response options.
The North Korean military had already raised alarms early this month with its first ICBM launch.
The Trump administration has said that all options are on the table, including military ones, however it has also made clear that diplomacy and sanctions are its preferred course.
Following a meeting of South Korea's National Security Council, South Korean president Moon Jae-in said he wanted the U.N. Security Council to discuss new and stronger sanctions against the North, the presidential Blue House said.
Later the United States and South Korea conducted a live-fire ballistic missile exercise in a display of firepower in response to the missile launch, the U.S. military said.
The two allies had staged a similar exercise after the North Korean test earlier in the month.
South Korea's defense minister Song Young-moo said on Saturday Seoul would prepare independent measures to curb North Korea's nuclear threat after the missile launch.
The launch from North Korea's northern Jangang province took place at 11:41 p.m. (1441 GMT), an official at South Korea's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile flew for about 45 minutes before apparently landing in the waters of Japan's exclusive economic zone.
Japanese broadcaster NHK, citing a military official, said the missile reached an altitude of more than 3,000 km (1,860 miles).
US cities in range
The South Korean military said the missile was believed to be an ICBM-class, flying more than 1,000 km (620 miles) and reaching an altitude of 3,700 km (2,300 miles). In Washington, the Pentagon also said it had assessed that the missile was an ICBM.
U.S. officials said the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon spy agency, has determined that North Korea will be able to field a reliable nuclear-capable ICBM by next year, earlier than previously thought.
Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies said the launch showed Los Angeles was within range of a North Korean missile, with Chicago, New York and Washington, just out of reach.
"They may not have demonstrated the full range. The computer models suggest it can hit all of those targets," he said.
The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said its calculations showed the missile could have been capable of going as far into the United States as Denver and Chicago.
Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the window for a diplomatic solution with North Korea "is closing rapidly."
During a test on May 31 the missile defense system shot down an incoming ICBM missile aimed at the U.S. mainland and a Pentagon spokesman said the military had "confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat."
Other authorities say the United States may not be able to seal itself off entirely from a North Korean ICBM attack.