Washington: Two recent missile tests conducted by North Korea were of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, marking a “serious escalation” by Pyongyang that will be punished with fresh sanctions, a senior US official said Thursday
According to North Korea, the February 26 and March 4 tests were focused on developing a reconnaissance satellite, but the US official said rigorous analysis concluded they were actually experimental precursors to a likely full-range ICBM launch.
Any such launch would mark the end of a self-imposed moratorium Pyongyang has had in place since 2017 and send military tensions soaring on the Korean peninsula and beyond.
The North has carried out three ICBM tests; the last in November 2017 of a Hwasong-15 — deemed powerful enough to reach Washington and the rest of the continental United States.
The US official said the recent two tests “involved a relatively new intercontinental ballistic missile system” that Pyongyang had first showcased at a military parade in October 2020.
“This is a serious escalation,” the official said, adding that while neither launch displayed ICBM range or capability, they were clearly intended “to test elements of this new system before (North Korea) conducts a launch in full range.”
When the full test is carried out, North Korea will likely seek to disguise it as a “space launch,” the official said.
Prior to its ICBM tests in 2017, the North had carried out a series of powerful rocket launches that it insisted were part of a wider civilian space programme.
North Korea is already under biting international sanctions over its missile and nuclear weapons programme, and the official said the US Treasury would announce fresh measures on Friday to help prevent Pyongyang from accessing “foreign items and technology” to advance that programme.
Such measures underline that the North’s “unlawful and destabilising activities have consequences” and that diplomatic negotiations are the only viable path forward for Pyongyang, the official said.