United Nations, United States (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council joined an international chorus condemning North Korea Sunday (April 24) for firing what the hermit state claims was a successful submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The North's state-run KCNA news agency said Saturday's test - which it said was personally monitored by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - confirmed the reliability of the country's underwater launching system.
Kim hailed the test as an "eye-opening success," state media said, and crowed that Pyongyang has the ability to strike Seoul and the United States at will.
The UN Security Council condemned the test as a "serious" violation of past resolutions approved by the international body to thwart Pyongyang's nuclear weapons drive.
"Such ballistic missile activities contribute to (North Korea's) development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension in the region and beyond," the UN Council statement added.
It urged Pyongyang to "refrain from further actions in violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions." Washington and London denounced the SLBM test as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, with US President Barack Obama urging China to increase pressure on Pyongyang after another this latest in a series of "provocative" weapons tests.
"North Korea continues to engage in continuous provocative behavior," Obama said in Germany, where he is wrapping up a three-nation tour that also included Saudi Arabia and Britain.
"We have cultivated cooperation with the Chinese to put pressure on North Korea, although it is not where we would completely like it to be," the US leader said.
The launch came amid growing concern that Pyongyang is preparing a fifth nuclear test, but was followed hours later by a North Korean offer to impose a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing if the United States suspends annual military drills with South Korea.
Still images shown on state television showed Kim monitoring the test through binoculars and meeting the crew and scientists shortly thereafter.
"This eye-opening success constitutes one more precious gift the defense scientists and technicians are presenting to the great leaders and the party," KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
South Korea's defense ministry said the missile, fired from a submarine in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), flew around 30km and that the test showed "certain technological progress" in the North's SLBM capability.
"It is believed... that the North would be able to deploy the SLBM weapon within three to four years, or even sooner if it dedicates all its resources on the project," ministry spokesman Moon Sang-Gyun told reporters.
Pictures showed the missile, with "The North Star" emblazoned on it, soaring out of the water and into the sky, trailed by a massive plume of smoke.
State TV also showed what it claimed were underwater images of the missile being ejected from the submarine, using key "cold launch" technology.
North Korea has been pushing to acquire an SLBM capability that would take its nuclear strike threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and the potential to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.
The isolated country has conducted a number of what it says have been successful SLBM tests, but experts previously questioned the claims, suggesting Pyongyang had carried out little more than "pop-up" tests from a submerged platform.
This latest purported launch comes as the North gears up for a rare and much-hyped ruling party congress early next month - the first in 36 years - at which Kim is expected to take credit for pushing the country's nuclear and missile weapons program to new heights.
In an interview with the Associated Press in New York, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong said Pyongyang would be willing to halt further tests if Washington announced an end to annual joint military exercises with Seoul.
South Korea dismissed the proposal and warned it would seek further sanctions for the SLBM test it called an "open provocation." "We strongly urge the North to... stop making a ridiculous attempt to link our regular joint military drills, which are defensive in nature, with a nuclear test that is banned under UN Security Council resolution," the foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday.
The annual drills always raise tensions on the Korean peninsula, with the North condemning them as provocative rehearsals for invasion.
Pyongyang made the same offer in January of last year - a deal flatly rejected by the United States.