Seoul/Washington: North Korea said on Wednesday it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach all of the US mainland.
The missile test, North Korea's first since mid-September, came a week after US president Donald Trump put North Korea back on a US list of countries it says support terrorism, allowing it to impose more sanctions.
North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under its leader, Kim Jong Un, in defiance of international sanctions. Trump has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States.
In a broadcast on state TV, North Korea said the new powerful missile reached an altitude of around 4,475 km - more than 10 times the height of the international space station - and flew 950 km during its 53 minute flight.
After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power, according to a statement read by a television presenter.
In the statement North Korea described itself as a 'responsible nuclear power,' but warned its strategic weapons were developed to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity from "the U.S. imperialists' nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat."
US, Japanese and South Korean officials all agreed the missile, which landed within Japan's exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan, was likely an ICBM but it did not pose a threat to the United States, its territories or allies, the Pentagon said.
“It went higher frankly than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically," US defense secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the White House.
US IN RANGE?
Some scientists cautioned that Washington D.C. could now theoretically be within range of Pyongyang's weapons.
Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe spoke by phone and agreed to boost deterrence capability against North Korea, Yasutoshi Nishimura, deputy chief cabinet secretary, told reporters in Tokyo.
"It is a situation that we will handle," Trump told reporters at the White House, speaking about the latest test.
Trump, who was briefed on the missile while it was in flight, said it did not change his administration's approach to North Korea, which has included new curbs to hurt trade between China and North Korea.
Japanese officials said the missile flew for 53 minutes and broke up before landing in Japan's exclusive economic zone. Defense minister Itsunori Onodera said it was judged to be ICBM class given its lofted trajectory.
"If these numbers are correct, then if flown on a standard trajectory rather than this lofted trajectory, this missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km... Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States," the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said.
However, it was unclear how heavy a payload the missile was carrying, and it was uncertain if it could carry a large nuclear warhead that far, the nonprofit science advocacy group added.
Minutes after the North fired the missile, South Korea's military conducted a missile-firing test in response, the South Korean military said.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in said the launch had been anticipated and that the government had been preparing for it. Moon said there was no choice but for countries to keep applying pressure and sanctions against North Korea.
"The situation could get out of control if North Korea perfects its ICBM technology," Moon said, according to the Blue House after a national security council meeting.
"North Korea shouldn't miscalculate the situation and threaten South Korea with a nuclear weapon, which could elicit a possible pre-emptive strike by the United States."
Trump has traded insults and threats with Kim and warned in September that the United States would have no choice but to 'totally destroy' North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.