North Korea said Monday it has successfully tested-fired a new ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic missile, claiming that the U.S. mainland is within its striking range.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un observed the launch of the rocket, called the Hwasong-12, on Sunday, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korea fired the missile from a site northwest of Pyongyang, according to South Korea's military. It marked the North's first provocation since South Korea's new President Moon Jae-in took office Wednesday.
The KCNA said that the missile reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers in an indication that it may be a new type of a ballistic missile under development. It flew 787 km, it added.
"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," the report said in English.
Kim warned that the U.S. should not misjudge the reality that its mainland and operations in the Pacific region are in North Korea's "sighting range for strike and that it has all powerful means for retaliatory strike," it added.
If North Korea's claim is confirmed, the move is adding to concerns that Pyongyang may be closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
North Korea's leader said in his New Year's message that the country has entered the final stage of preparing to launch an ICBM.
It has yet to be verified over details about North Korea's new missile.
North Korea launched a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), known as Pukguksong-2 in North Korea, from the same site on Feb. 12. The missile is known to be developed with the technology applied to submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
Experts said that the launch appeared aimed at testing South Korea's new president who has vowed to seek a dual-track approach of pushing for denuclearization and dialogue with Pyongyang.
Moon is widely expected to seek engagement with North Korea to improve long-strained ties, but Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs are limiting his leeway for reconciliatory policies.
Tensions heightened on the divided peninsula in recent weeks amid speculation that North Korea may conduct its sixth nuclear test.
Pyongyang appeared to refrain from conducting large-scale provocations, but the latest launch is likely to complicate the situation on the peninsula.
Choe Son-hui, a senior North Korean diplomat, said Saturday that Pyongyang would be willing to hold talks with Washington "under the right conditions."
The U.S. said it aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programs through sanctions while remaining open to dialogue. U.S. President Donald Trump is pressing China to rein in its unruly neighbor. (Yonhap)