SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea claimed to have tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile in a launch Tuesday, a potential game-changing development in its push to militarily challenge Washington — but a declaration that conflicts with earlier South Korean and U.S. assessments that it had an intermediate range.
The North has previously conducted satellite launches that critics say were disguised tests of its long-range missile technology. But a test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, if confirmed, would be a major step forward in developing a nuclear-armed missile that can reach anywhere in the United States.
Still, the launch appeared to be the North's most successful missile test yet, a weapon analyst said could be powerful enough to reach Alaska.
The launch seems designed to send a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, even as it allows North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program. It came on the eve of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, days after the first face-to-face meeting of the leaders of South Korea and the United States, and ahead of a global summit of the world's richest economies.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials say the missile fired from North Phyongan province, in the North's western region, flew for about 40 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles), which would be longer and higher than any other similar tests previously reported. It also covered a distance of about 930 kilometers (580 miles). South Korean analysts said it was likely that it was a retest of one of two intermediate-range missiles launched earlier this year.
Once U.S. missile scientist, David Wright, estimated that the missile, if the reported time and distance are correct, would have been on a very highly lofted trajectory and could have a possible maximum range of 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles), which could put Alaska in its range, if fired at a normal trajectory.
North Korea has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles, but is still trying to perfect its longer-range missiles. Some analysts believe North Korea has the technology to arm its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads, but it's unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile.
Soon after the morning launch, President Donald Trump responded on Twitter: "North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!"
"This guy" presumably refers to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. China is North Korea's economic lifeline and only major ally, and the Trump administration is pushing Beijing to do more to push the North toward disarmament.
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