SEOUL • North Korea said yesterday its latest missile launch was a test of a new type of rocket, in what analysts said showed an unprecedented range that brought US military bases in Guam within reach.
The test "proved to the full all the technical specifications of the rocket (which was) capable of carrying a large-sized heavy nuclear warhead", the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
Leader Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the test, KCNA said, and "hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they had worked hard to achieve a great thing".
However, there are still doubts whether Pyongyang can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it into a missile nose cone, and there is no evidence it has mastered the re-entry technology needed to ensure weapon survives returning into earth's atmosphere.
The new ground-to-ground missile, Hwasong-12, hit the targeted open water 700km away after soaring to a record altitude of 2,112km. KCNA said that the missile was launched successfully at a deliberately high angle so it would not fall too close to a neighbouring country.
Analysts said the trajectory and distance travelled suggested a range of 4,500km or more if flown for maximum distance.
The White House said in a statement that the missile came down "so close to Russian soil... the (US) President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased" .
Leader Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the test, the official Korea Central News Agency said, and "hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they had worked hard to achieve a great thing".
Russia's defence ministry said the missile landed about 500km from its territory and posed no threat. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking on the sidelines of a forum in Beijing yesterday, said the test was "dangerous", but he warned that Pyongyang was being intimidated and called for a peaceful solution to regional tensions.
"We are categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear powers," Mr Putin told reporters .
Dr Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the United States said this was the longest range missile North Korea had ever tested, aside from space launches.
On the respected 38 North website, aerospace engineering specialist John Schilling said the launch appeared to demonstrate an intermediate-range ballistic missile that could "reliably strike the US base at Guam" in the Pacific.
He added: "More importantly, it may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile."
The latest test looked likely to limit the room for manoeuvre of new South Korean President Moon Jae In in following up any hopes of dialogue with Pyongyang, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said yesterday, quoting experts. Instead, it has set the stage for Washington to employ tougher sanctions, said Yonhap.
On the campaign trail after the ouster of his predecessor, Ms Park Geun Hye, over corruption charges, Mr Moon had pledged to seek a dual-track approach of pushing for denuclearisation and dialogue with Pyongyang. He urged North Korea on Sunday to stop provocations for the resumption of dialogue.
Mr Ken Gause, a senior analyst at US-based Centre for Naval Analyses, told Yonhap: "This launch could be designed to see how Moon reacts."
Mr Cheong Seong Chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, is quoted by Yonhap as saying that Mr Moon would face challenges in improving inter-Korean relations as the US is likely to further pressure Seoul to join its drive for tougher sanctions.
"As North Korea claimed that the US mainland is within its striking range, I expect a tougher reaction from the US and calls for further pressure and sanctions by the international community," he said.
Tensions between the US and North Korea reached a peak in recent weeks, with Washington saying military action was an option under consideration and Pyongyang issuing threats of its own.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council is due to meet today to discuss North Korea, at the request of the US, South Korea and Japan.