WASHINGTON • The US has sharply condemned a North Korean plan to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and warned it against "provocative actions", while experts yesterday confirmed as plausible Pyongyang's claim about the launch.
A Pentagon's statement on Sunday called on "all states" to show the North that any unlawful actions would have "consequences". The toughly worded statement comes just weeks before President Barack Obama is due to hand over power to Mr Donald Trump.
If North Korea conducts a long- range missile test in the coming months, it will test Mr Trump's new administration.
Despite years of increasingly harsh sanctions, North Korea has been advancing towards its leader Kim Jong Un's professed goal of arming his isolated country with the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead at the United States.
The US statement came hours after Mr Kim, in a televised New Year's speech, said his country was close to testing an ICBM, which would be capable of reaching American shores.
Mr Kim indicated in his speech that Pyongyang may test-launch a long-range rocket several times this year to complete its ICBM programme, noted Dr Cheong Seong Chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.
The first of such tests could come even before Mr Trump's inauguration, Dr Cheong said. "We need to take note of the fact that this is the first New Year's speech where Kim Jong Un mentioned an intercontinental ballistic missile," he said.
In his speech, Mr Kim said North Korea was now a "military power of the East that cannot be touched by even the strongest enemy".
He did not comment on Mr Trump's election.
The Pentagon statement noted that "multiple UN Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibit North Korea's launches using ballistic missile technology".
It urged Pyongyang to "refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric that threaten international peace and stability".
The statement also reaffirmed Washington's "ironclad commitment" to defend its allies, using "the full spectrum of US extended deterrence capabilities".
North Korea had been working through 2016 on developing components for an ICBM, international weapons experts said yesterday.
The North has been testing rocket engines and heat shields for an ICBM while developing the technology to guide a missile after re-entry into the atmosphere following a lift-off, the experts said.
While Pyongyang is close to a test, it is still likely to take some years to perfect the weapon.
Once fully developed, a North Korean ICBM could threaten the continental US, which is around 9,000km from the North. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500km, but some are designed to travel 10,000km or farther.
"The bottom line is Pyongyang is much further along in their missile development than most people realise," said Ms Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS