North Korea launches intercontinental ballistic missile for first time in almost 5 years

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SEOUL, March 24 (UPI) — North Korea test fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday that landed in the waters off Japan, South Korean and Japanese military officials said — the secretive regime’s most provocative weapons test in almost five years.

The launch effectively ended a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear weapons tests that North Korea had followed since 2017.

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South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the ICBM traveled for about 670 miles and reached an altitude of over 3,850 miles. It was launched at a lofted angle from the area of Sunan international airport outside of Pyongyang, the joint chiefs said in a text message to reporters.

The South Korean military responded with a live-fire drill of missiles from the ground, sea and air in a demonstration of its “ability and willingness to respond immediately,” the joint chiefs added.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said that the missile stayed airborne for 71 minutes and splashed down 93 miles from the northernmost island of Hokkaido, inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told a parliamentary hearing that the missile’s altitude greatly exceeded that of the last ICBM that Pyongyang launched, the Hwasong-15 in November 2017, indicating it was a “new class” of missile.

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The White House condemned the launch as a “brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions” and said that it “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.”

“We urge all countries to hold the DPRK accountable for such violations and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea, which has conducted a flurry of weapons tests since the beginning of 2022, including 11 missile launches.

Washington and Seoul had warned recently that North Korea was preparing to conduct a full launch of an ICBM system, likely the Hwasong-17 missile that it unveiled at a military parade in October 2020 but had not yet tested.

It was not immediately clear whether Thursday’s launch was the Hwasong-17, which is believed to be the world’s largest mobile ICBM and may be capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. Analysts estimate that it has the range to reach the entire continental United States.

Thursday’s launch comes a week after a missile believed to be an ICBM was fired from the Sunan airfield and reportedly exploded in the air near Pyongyang.

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North Korea conducted a pair of missile launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 that it said were connected to a new reconnaissance satellite program. U.S. and South Korean officials concluded that they were tests of a new ICBM system.