SEOUL, March 17 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the secretive state’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile would “strike fear into the enemies” and warned of an “irreversible, grave threat” to United States and South Korean military forces, state media reported Friday.
The North fired a Hwasong-17 ICBM, the largest in its arsenal, from Pyongyang International Airport on Thursday, state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
The missile traveled roughly 620 miles and reached a maximum altitude of 3,750 miles before “accurately landing on the preset area in the open waters off the East Sea,” KCNA said.
The launch took place hours ahead of a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on regional security issues in Tokyo.
Kim oversaw the launch alongside members of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea central committee and commanding officers of the Missile General Bureau, KCNA reported. Images released by state media showed the North Korean leader accompanied by his young daughter Ju Ae, who has frequently appeared by her father’s side since her first public appearance in November.
Pyongyang has angrily denounced the ongoing U.S.-South Korea Freedom Shield joint military exercise, which began Monday and will continue until Thursday.
Kim said the drills “show open hostility towards the DPRK” and warned the ICBM launch would “make them realize … that their persistent expanded anti-DPRK military moves will bring an irreversible, grave threat to them.”
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
“[Kim] stressed the need to strike fear into the enemies, really deter war and reliably guarantee the peaceful life of our people … by irreversibly bolstering up the nuclear war deterrent,” the KCNA report said.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday that the joint drills “are defensive in nature and meant to bolster our interoperability and meant to deter potential aggression in the region.”
North Korea’s reactions to the exercise are “inappropriate … destabilizing and concerning,” Ryder said at a press briefing on Thursday.
“But I think what’s important for people to understand is, one, deterrence continues to work,” he added. “Despite launching missiles into the ocean, North Korea is not attacking.”
The Hwasong-17 is the world’s largest liquid-fuel road-mobile ICBM, according to analysts. The missiles are believed to be capable of reaching anywhere in the United States and can potentially be fitted with multiple warheads.
Kim warned that the North will “react to nuclear weapons with nukes and frontal confrontation in kind,” KCNA reported.
He added that Thursday’s test “clearly proved once again the conviction and guarantee of the operating systems of the nuclear strategic forces undergoing rapid development.”
Pyongyang’s ICBM launch was the latest in a flurry of weapons tests that have coincided with the Freedom Shield joint military exercise.
The North launched a pair of ballistic missiles on Tuesday and fired cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday. Last week, the secretive regime launched six short-range ballistic missiles in what Kim called preparation for an “actual war response.”