North Korea says the missile it launched over the weekend is a new type of long-range ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.
If confirmed, the claim marks another big step forward in the country's escalating efforts to field a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the US mainland. Outside experts don't believe the North can do that yet, but each new test pushes them closer to the goal.
The launch on Sunday is an immediate challenge to South Korea's new leader, a liberal elected just five days earlier who expressed a desire to reach out to North Korea. The country's push to boost its weapons program also makes it one of the Trump administration's most urgent foreign policy worries.
The missile flew for half an hour and reached an unusually high altitude before landing in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean, Japanese and US militaries said. Tokyo said the flight pattern could indicate a new type of missile.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency called the missile a "new ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12" that's "capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead."
Leader Kim Jong Un was said to have witnessed the test and "hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they worked hard to achieve a great thing," according to KCNA.
Kim accused the United States of "browbeating" countries that "have no nukes" and warned Washington not to misjudge the reality that its mainland is in the North's "sighting range for strike," the news agency reported.
"The test-fire aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead," KCNA said.
"If the US awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK, it will not escape from the biggest disaster in the history, Kim said, strongly warning the US 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."
The launch jeopardises new South Korean President Moon Jae-in's willingness to talk to the North, and comes as US, Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.
"The president expressed deep regret over the fact that this reckless provocation ... occurred just days after a new government was launched in South Korea," senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said.
The UN Security Council will hold closed consultations about the launch on Tuesday afternoon.
© RAW 2017
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