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

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks away from what state media report is a "new type" of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released on March 24, 2022, by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

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 test firing of what state media said was a North Korean "new type" of intercontinental ballistic missile is shown in this undated photo released March 24, 2022, by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency.
The test firing of what state media said was a North Korean "new type" of intercontinental ballistic missile is shown in this undated photo released March 24, 2022, by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency.

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.

Sanctions response

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.”

At the United Nations on Friday, Washington said it would seek to “update and strengthen” existing security council sanctions on North Korea.

"In Security Council Resolution 2397, which we unanimously adopted, the council decided we would take further action in the event of a DPRK ICBM launch,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during an emergency council meeting to discuss the launch. “This is precisely what happened, so now is the time to take that action.”

The envoys from South Korea and Japan participated in the meeting and expressed support for new sanctions.

China and Russia, both veto-wielding council members, not only oppose more sanctions against North Korea, they say current sanctions should be relaxed. Both also blame the United States for current tensions. On Friday, neither signaled any openness to adopt stronger measures.

"This council should play a constructive role when it comes to the peninsula issue,” China’s Ambassador Zhang Jun said. “It should not stress the need for sanctions and pressurization to the exclusion of other considerations.”

Russia’s envoy said the council had ignored “positive signals” from Pyongyang and had only strengthened restrictions.

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, in Seoul, South Korea, March 24, 2022. (Yonhap via Reuters)
People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, in Seoul, South Korea, March 24, 2022. (Yonhap via Reuters)

Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea specialist at King's College London, noted that North Korea and Russia have become even closer in recent weeks, with Pyongyang publicly supporting Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.

"So there is no chance that we will see new U.N. sanctions on North Korea," Pardo said.

"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 would likely maintain a "more measured tone" toward North Korea.

New president

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 appeared to be an attempt to check those two boxes.

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from New York.

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