North Korea launches suspected ICBM, Kim Jong Un’s first major weapons test since 2017

HONG KONG — North Korea has launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017, officials in Japan said on Thursday, in a major escalation in tensions over its weapons program.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief of Cabinet Hirokazu Matsuno, said the missile appears to be a new type of ICBM, as it travels much farther than North Korea’s last ICBM tested in November 2017.

Matsuno said he briefed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is on his way to Brussels for a NATO summit to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that, while the world is responding to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, North Korea unilaterally escalates its provocations against the international community by conducting this launch,” Matsuno said.

The launch ended a self-imposed moratorium on ICBM and nuclear weapons testing that North Korea declared in 2018 ahead of diplomatic talks with the United States that ultimately collapsed. The country is forbidden by United Nations Security Council resolutions from testing nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.

Matsuno said the missile was launched east of North Korea’s west coast. He said it landed at 3:44 p.m. (2:44 a.m. ET) about 150 km (90 miles) west of the Oshima Peninsula on the northern island of Hokkaido, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

According to Matsuno, the rocket was an estimated 71 minutes in the air, flew a distance of 1,100 km (680 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of more than 6,000 km (3,725 miles).

So far there have been no reports of damage to ships or aircraft in the area.

The South Korean military also said North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile” believed to be a long-range ballistic missile. South Korean President Moon Jae-in called a National Security Council meeting in response to the launch.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration warned that North Korea was secretly testing elements of a new ICBM system ahead of a potential full-range launch. It imposed new sanctions over two missile tests on February 27 and March 5 that it said affected the Hwasong-17, North Korea’s largest ICBM. The Hwasong-17 first appeared at a military parade in October 2020 but had never been tested before.

North Korea has stepped up its missile tests in recent months, particularly since the beginning of the year. These included an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam, as well as a hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The country hinted in January that tests of nuclear weapons or long-range ballistic missiles could be next.

Experts say such tests are an attempt to extort concessions from the United States as North Korea’s economy, already struggling under government mismanagement and US-led sanctions, continues to be hurt by the pandemic.

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