SEOUL-- North Korea said Wednesday that it has successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting anywhere in the U.S., declaring that the launch marks the completion of its nuclear armament.
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the country launched a Hwasong-15 ICBM capable of carrying a "super-large heavy warhead" and "striking the whole mainland of the U.S."
After observing the test, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared that the country has completed the development of "the state nuclear force," naming the regime a nuclear state, the KCNA said.
It marked the third ICBM test by North Korea following the test-firing of two Hwasong-14 ICBMs in July.
The latest missile, fired at a lofted angle, flew some 960 kilometers to an altitude of around 4,500 km, Seoul's military said.
Experts say that if launched on a standard trajectory, it may have flown as far as some 13,000 kilometers, putting significant parts of the continental U.S. within range.
The North said in its "solemn declaration" that its nuclear weapons do not pose a threat to any country as long as its interests are not infringed upon.
"As a responsible nuclear power and a peace-loving state, (North Korea) will make every possible effort to serve the noble purpose of defending peace and stability of the world," the KCNA said.
North Korea's race for advancing nuclear weapons has been intensified under the current North Korean leader, who took office in late 2011. Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, including the latest one in September.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in January that his country had entered the final stage of preparing to launch an ICBM.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Tuesday that North Korea may announce the completion of its nuclear weapons program next year when the regime marks the 70th anniversary of its establishment.
Analysts said that the latest test was the longest flight of a North Korean missile, but North Korea still seems to be short of mastering re-entry technology, a key element in developing an ICBM.
North Korea's media did not mention whether a warhead carried by a re-entry vehicle successfully withstood the extreme heat and pressure of passing through the Earth's atmosphere.
"To test the re-entry technology, there is a need to fire a missile on a standard trajectory. The North probably did not succeed in (mastering) it," said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University.
Experts said that Pyongyang apparently hastened to announce the completion of its nuclear development, with some claiming that the North may intend to secure a breakthrough in the current standoff with an "ambiguous" declaration.
"The North's leader is likely to make an official announcement probably through the New Year's message," said Cho Sung-ryul, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS). "Pyongyang could propose talks with the U.S. or South Korea."
Next year will be a critical year for North Korea as the wayward regime marks the 70th anniversary of its establishment.
Hong Min, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said that the North might have felt "fatigue" in dealing with U.S. President Donald Trump, necessitating some breathing room for Pyongyang to ease the current stalemate.
Analysts said that the North could propose dialogue with South Korea in connection with the PyeongChang Winter Games to be held in the South in February.
Seoul hopes to lure North Korea's participation to make it the "Peace Olympics" as it believes the move will help ease inter-Korean tensions.
"North Korea may bring up ways to build trust for easing military tensions on the occasion of the PyeongChang Games," Hong said.
Source: Yonhap News Agency