North Korea launched what appeared to be its longest-range ballistic missile yet on Tuesday, with experts suggesting it could reach Alaska.
If the test which came as the United States prepared to mark its independence day on the Fourth of July — represents an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) it would force a recalculation of the strategic threat posed by Pyongyang.
The North has long ambitions to build a rocket capable of delivering an atomic warhead to the continental United States – something that Trump has vowed “won’t happen”.
Analysts say the isolated, impoverished country has made great progress in its missile capabilities in the years since the ascension to power of young leader Kim Jong-Un, who has overseen three nuclear tests and multiple rocket launches.
There are still doubts whether the North can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it onto a missile nose cone, or has mastered the technology needed for it to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
But Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of provocations that have ratcheted up tensions, and came days after Seoul’s new leader Moon Jae-In and Trump focused on risks from Pyongyang in their first summit.
The United Nations has imposed multiple sets of sanctions on Pyongyang over its weapons programmes, which retorts that it needs nuclear arms to defend itself against the threat of invasion.
The “unidentified ballistic missile” was fired from a site in North Phyongan province, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, and came down in the East Sea, the Korean name for the Sea of Japan.
It flew for “more than 930 kilometres”, they added. US Pacific Command confirmed the test and said it was a land-based, intermediate range missile that flew for 37 minutes, adding the launch did not pose a threat to North America.