The UN Security Council has strongly condemned North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test and vowed strong measures, including sanctions, to derail Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
North Korea’s long-term bid to develop a credible nuclear attack threat to the US mainland saw it launch Sunday what appeared to be its longest-range missile yet.
Pyongyang said the new weapon—called the Hwasong-12 -- was capable of carrying a “heavy nuclear warhead”.
In a unanimous statement backed by the North’s main ally China, the council on Monday vowed to punish Pyongyang’s “highly destabilizing behavior” and demanded a halt to any further nuclear or missile tests.
Pyongyang carried out two atomic tests last year, and has accelerated its missile launch programme, despite tough UN sanctions aimed at denying leader Kim Jong-Un the hard currency needed to fund his weapons ambitions.
“There’s a lot of sanctions left that we can start to do, whether it’s with oil, whether it’s with energy, whether it’s with their maritime ships, exports,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told ABC television’s “This Week”.
“We can do a lot of different things that we haven’t done yet. So our options are there.”
The United States is in talks with China—Pyongyang’s main trading partner—on a possible new sanctions resolution and the Security Council is expected to hold a closed-door emergency meeting starting around 2000 GMT Tuesday.
‘A substantial advance’
Kim personally oversaw Sunday’s test, the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said, and pictures by state media showed him gazing at the missile in a hangar before the launch.
The missile was launched on an unusually high trajectory, before splashing down in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
Analysts said the test suggested an actual range of 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles) or more if flown for maximum distance.
“This is the longest-range missile North Korea has ever tested,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the US told AFP.
On the respected 38 North website, aerospace engineering specialist John Schilling said it appeared to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile that could “reliably strike the US base at Guam” in the Pacific, 3,400 kilometres away.
“More importantly,” he added, it “may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)”.
The North has made no secret of its quest to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States—something President Donald Trump has vowed “won’t happen”.
KCNA cited Kim as saying the North would never succumb to what it called the “highly ridiculous” US strategy of “militarily browbeating only weak countries and nations which have no nukes”.
“If the US dares opt for a military provocation against the DPRK, we are ready to counter it,” it said.
In April Pyongyang put dozens of missiles on show at a giant military parade through the capital, including one that appeared to be the type launched on Sunday.
There are doubts whether the North can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it onto a missile nose cone, and no proof it has mastered the re-entry technology needed to ensure it survives returning into Earth’s atmosphere.
Sunday’s test came less than a week after South Korea elected a new president, Moon Jae-In, who advocates reconciliation with Pyongyang and had expressed a willingness to visit the North to ease tensions.
But Moon slammed the latest launch as a “reckless provocation” and said dialogue would be possible “only if the North changes its attitude”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the test was dangerous, but warned against attempts to “intimidate” Pyongyang.
Pyongyang could find itself the target of further global censure after security researchers reported Monday signs of a potential North Korean link to cyberattacks that have wreaked havoc on computer networks around the world.
In the first clues of the origin of the massive ransomware attacks, Google researcher Neel Mehta posted computer code that showed similarities between the “WannaCry” malware and a vast hacking effort widely attributed to Pyongyang.
Other experts quickly jumped on this as sign—although not conclusive—that North Korea may have been behind the outbreak.