North Korea says its ICBM can carry nuclear warhead; U.S. urges global action



SEOUL North Korea said on Wednesday its newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) can carry a large nuclear warhead, triggering a call by Washington for global action to hold it accountable for pursuing nuclear weapons.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department said it had concluded that North Korea on Tuesday test-launched an ICBM, which some experts believe has the range to reach Alaska and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the test, on the eve of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, represented “a new escalation of the threat” to the United States and its allies, and vowed to take stronger measures.

The U.N. Security Council, currently chaired by China, will hold an emergency meeting on North Korea at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Wednesday, requested by the United States, Japan and South Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the test completed his country’s strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs and ICBMs, the state KCNA news agency said.

Pyongyang will not negotiate with the United States to give up those weapons until Washington abandons its hostile policy against the North, KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

“He, with a broad smile on his face, told officials, scientists and technicians that the U.S. would be displeased … as it was given a ‘package of gifts’ on its ‘Independence Day’,” KCNA said.

Kim ordered them to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees,” it added.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been urging China, North Korea’s main trading partner and only major ally, to press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

Diplomats say Beijing has not been fully enforcing existing international sanctions on its neighbor, and has resisted tougher measures, such as an oil embargo, bans on the North Korean airline and guest workers, and measures against Chinese banks and other firms doing business with the North.

Trump denounced China’s trade with North Korea and cast doubt on whether Beijing is working with Washington to counter the North Korean nuclear threat.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 pct in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

In a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Trump urged all countries to “stop hosting North Korean guest workers, and stop providing economic or military benefits to North Korea,” the White House said in a statement.

The missile launch came days before leaders from the Group of 20 nations are due to discuss steps to rein in North Korea’s weapons program, which it has pursued in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions.

The test successfully verified the technical requirements of the newly developed ICBM in stage separation, the atmospheric re-entry of the warhead and the late-stage control of the warhead, KCNA said.

DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE

A 2015 U.N. document estimated that more than 50,000 North Korean workers were overseas earning currencies for the government, with the vast majority in China and Russia.

North Korea appeared to have used a Chinese truck, originally sold for hauling timber, but converted for military use, to transport and erect the missile on Tuesday.

Trump has indicated he is running out of patience with Beijing’s efforts to rein in North Korea. His administration has said all options are on the table, military included, but suggested those would be a last resort and that sanctions and diplomatic pressure were its preferred course.

David Pressman, who served as deputy U.S. envoy to the United Nations in the Obama administration, said the North Korean leadership seemed unaffected by U.N. Security Council condemnations.

  “The Council can continue to adopt robust resolutions, impose strong coercive measures, and issue stern condemnations, but the fact of the matter is that Kim Jong Un doesn’t seem to care and Beijing has not proven itself serious about implementing those measures that are already in place,” Pressman said.

Trump is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a G20 meeting in Germany this week.

Russia and China joined diplomatic forces on Tuesday and called for North Korea to suspend its ballistic missile program in return for a moratorium on large-scale military exercises by the United States and South Korea.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the joint statement showed the international community wanted dialogue and not antagonistic voices, as he also urged North Korea not to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We hope relevant countries can maintain calm and restraint, and not take steps that might worsen tensions on the peninsula,” Geng told a daily briefing.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries conducted a ballistic missile test early on Wednesday in a show of force on the east coast of the Korean peninsula. The South said the drill aimed to showcase the ability to strike at the North’s leadership if necessary.

Russia and China oppose any attempt to resolve the crisis by force or by strangling North Korea economically, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

“The task of the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula cannot and should not be used as a disguise for attempts to change North Korea’s regime. This is our common position,” he told a news conference.

The North’s state media said the missile, Hwasong-14, flew 933 km (580 miles), reaching an altitude of 2,802 km (1,741 miles) in its 39 minutes of flight.

Some analysts said the flight details suggested the new missile had a range of more than 8,000 km (4,970 miles), which would put parts of the U.S. mainland in range, a major advance in the North’s program.

The launch was both earlier and “far more successful than expected”, said U.S.-based missile expert John Schilling, a contributor to Washington-based North Korea monitoring project 38 North.

It would now probably only be a year or two before a North Korean ICBM achieved “minimal operational capability,” he added.

Experts say a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM would require a small warhead to fit a long-range missile, technology to protect against intense heat as it re-enters the atmosphere, separate the warhead and guide it to its target.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said “The situation was no longer sufficient to respond to the North’s provocation by making statements,” according to his office.

(For an interactive package on North Korea’s missile capabilities, click tmsnrt.rs/2t6WEPL)

(For a map locating the missile test on July 4, click tmsnrt.rs/2sGWo8C)

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Alistair Bell, David Brunnstrom and Phil Stewart in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York, Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Polina Nikolskaya in Moscow; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and James Dalgleish)

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