North Korea Says Kim Jong Un Guided Test of ‘Monster’ New ICBM

North Korea has confirmed its test of a massive new intercontinental ballistic missile, saying leader Kim Jong Un personally guided the launch at the country's main international airport.

State media showed Kim, dressed in a leather jacket, peering out the window of an observation structure as the missile lifted off in a fiery plume Thursday from a runway at the Pyongyang International Airport.

In a report Friday morning, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the test of the Hwasong-17 missile was part of efforts to strengthen North Korea's "nuclear war deterrent."

"The new strategic weapon of the DPRK will clearly show the might of our strategic force to the whole world once again," Kim was quoted as saying, using an abbreviation for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

It is North Korea's fourth ICBM test, and its first since 2017, during the height of tensions between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump. In 2018, Kim declared a moratorium on long-range tests, but he resumed shorter-range launches in 2019.

The Hwasong-17 was first unveiled during a military parade in October 2020. Experts dubbed it the "monster missile." They noted it appeared large enough to carry multiple warheads, a capacity that would make it much harder for U.S. missile defenses to intercept.

KCNA said the missile was launched on a lofted trajectory "in consideration of the security of the neighboring states." It landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, just 170 kilometers west of Japan's Aomori prefecture, according to Japan's Ministry of Defense.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the incident "an outrage that cannot be forgiven."

Just two hours after the launch, South Korea fired five of its own missiles in what it called a "demonstration of our ability and willingness to respond immediately and impose punishment."

In a statement, the White House called the launch a "brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions" that "needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region."

"The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions. The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies," the White House statement added.

On Thursday, the United States announced new sanctions against two Russian entities and a Russian man, as well as a North Korean citizen and entity. A State Department press release accused them of “transferring sensitive items to North Korea’s missile program.”

The U.N. Security Council will meet Friday to discuss the launch, according to an official schedule posted online.

Though the U.S. and its allies will likely respond firmly to the test, it is not clear whether North Korea will suffer major consequences. China and Russia, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, could not only oppose further sanctions but also recommend current sanctions on Pyongyang be relaxed.

"And North Korea and Russia have become even closer in recent weeks with Pyongyang publicly supporting Moscow after the invasion of Ukraine. So there is no chance that we will see new U.N. sanctions on North Korea," said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea specialist at King's College London.

"The U.S. can ramp up sanctions, and others will follow. But the North Korean economy is not going to become more isolated than it has been these past two years. And I would assume that China and Russia will provide the necessary economic and energy support," he added.

That contrasts with the period of North Korea tensions in 2017, when the United States was able to work with China and Russia to impose tough new sanctions on North Korea.

Another difference from 2017 is that Trump, who threatened to "totally destroy North Korea" and bragged about the size of his "nuclear button," is no longer U.S. president.

Mason Richey, an associate professor at South Korea's Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said Biden will likely maintain a "more measured tone" toward North Korea.

On the other hand, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose diplomacy with Pyongyang eventually helped lead to the Trump-Kim negotiations, leaves office in May. He will be replaced by conservative former prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol.

"And the conservatives have already telegraphed that they're going to take a really firm and even potentially escalatory stance to try to impose costs on North Korea for this behavior. And so that's a wild card we didn't have before," Richey said.

Yoon's transition team released a statement Thursday calling the North Korean launch a "serious provocation."

North Korea has conducted 12 rounds of missile launches this year, as it systematically works through a wish list of strategic weapons laid out last year by Kim.

The wish list includes ICBMs that are large enough to carry multiple warheads and that can travel at least 15,000 kilometers. Analysts say the latest test appears to be an attempt to check those two boxes.

Source: Voice of America