North Korea has claimed the missiles it launched on March 25 were a “new-type tactical guided projectile”, in its first statement since the test.
It was the country’s first ballistic launch in almost a year and the first since Joe Biden became US President.
President Biden has said the US will “respond accordingly”. The US, Japan and South Korea have condemned the tests.
Under UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s statement on March 26, issued through state media outlet KCNA, says the two weapons struck a test target 373 miles off North Korea’s east coast, disputing Japanese assessments that they flew just over 240 miles.
It added that the new missile is able to carry a payload of 2.5 tons, which would make it capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
“The development of this weapon system is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats,” Ri Pyong Chol, the senior leader who oversaw the test, was quoted as saying.
President Biden told reporters that the launch was a violation of UN resolutions and that the US was consulting with partners and allies.
“There will be responses – if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly,” he said.
“But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
It remains unclear what exact type of missile the North Koreans have launched. State media said it had an “improved version of a solid fuel engine” and described it as a tactical guided missile that could perform “gliding and pull-up” maneuvers, which could mean it is harder to intercept.
However, the test highlights the progress North Korea’s weapons program has seen since denuclearization talks with the US stalled under former President Donald Trump.
Analysts have suggested the missiles were the same as the ones unveiled at a military parade in the capital Pyongyang in October 2020.
“If that is the case, they appear to have an improved variant of the previously tested KN-23 missile with a really big warhead,” Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) told Reuters.
Such a new missile would allow North Korea to put heavier nuclear warheads on its rockets, Vipin Narang, a security studies professor at MIT said on Twitter.
Developing miniaturized nuclear warheads is difficult, although some observers believe that North Korea has this capability already.
North Korea last fired ballistic missiles a year ago amid stalled relations between then-US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The Biden administration says it has unsuccessfully tried to make diplomatic contact with North Korea.
North Korea has yet to acknowledge that Joe Biden is now in office, and the two countries remain at loggerheads over the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
North Korea has unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, described by state media as “the world’s most powerful weapon”.
According to state media, several of the missiles were displayed at a parade overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.
The new weapon’s actual capabilities remain unclear, as it is not known to have been tested.
The show of military strength comes days before Joe Biden’s inauguration.
It also follows a rare political meeting where Kim Jong-un decried the US as his country’s “biggest enemy”.
Images released by North Korean state media showed at least four large black-and-white missiles being driven past flag-waving crowds.
Clad in a leather coat and fur hat, Kim Jong-un is pictured smiling and waving as he watched the display in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, which also included infantry troops, artillery and tanks.
The official Korean Central News Agency said: “The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces.”
The event on January 14 did not showcase North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). That colossal weapon is believed to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the US, and its size had surprised even seasoned analysts when it was put on show last year.
North Korea’s latest display of its arsenal comes at the end of a five-yearly congress of the ruling Workers’ Party.
In his address to members last week, Kim Jong-un had pledged to expand North Korea’s nuclear weapons and military potential, outlining a list of desired weapons including long-range ballistic missiles capable of being launched from land or sea and “super-large warheads”.
He also said that the US was North Korea’s “biggest obstacle for our revolution and our biggest enemy… no matter who is in power, the true nature of its policy against North Korea will never change”.
Under Kim Jong-un’s leadership North Korea has made rapid progress in its weapons program, which it says is necessary to defend itself against a possible US invasion.
According to experts, the unveiling of the new missiles appears designed to send the incoming Biden administration a message of North Korea’s growing military prowess.
Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has received more responsibilities in the government, South Korea’s spy agency claims.
Kim Jong-un still maintains “absolute authority”, but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels, the spy agency reportedly said.
Kim Yo-jong is now “steering overall state affairs”, the National Intelligence Service added.
However, South Korea’s spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.
The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on August 20 to South Korea’s National Assembly.
Lawmakers then discussed the assessment with journalists.
The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”
Kim Yo-jong now has responsibility for Pyongyang’s policy towards the US and South Korea, among other policy issues, and is “the de-facto number two leader,” it added, although it stressed that Kim Jong-un had “not selected a successor.”
The North Korean leader’s decision to delegate was in part to “relieve stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure,” it said.
However, some analysts have been skeptical of the intelligence, with website NKNews noting that Kim Yo-jong appeared to have missed two important meetings this month, leading to speculation from some observers that she may have been demoted.
North Korea also began to dismantle loudspeakers it had erected only last week, traditionally used to blast anti-South Korean messages over the border, Yonhap reported.
The move represents a notable de-escalation in rhetoric after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong’s orders to the army to “decisively carry out the next action” – in part because of what Pyongyang said was Seoul’s failure to stop activists floating balloons with anti-regime leaflets over the border.
The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.
Tensions between North and South Korea appeared to be on the mend when in 2018, leaders of both countries met for the first time at the border.
The historic summit saw both sides pledge to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons – and in the months that followed, there were efforts to improve ties and maintain dialogue.
However, the relationship has been on a downward spiral after a failed summit between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.
And the past few weeks saw relations deteriorate especially rapidly – prompted by defector groups in South Korea sending propaganda across the border,
South Korean activists typically send balloons that carry objects like leaflets, USB sticks or DVDs with criticism of the Pyongyang regime, as well as South Korean news reports or even Korean dramas.
All of this is aimed at breaking North Korea’s control on domestic information with the hope that people might eventually topple the regime from within.
The South Korean government has already tried to stop groups sending leaflets across the border, arguing their actions put residents near the border at risk. The move prompted North Korea to renew threats of military action – and shortly afterwards it blew up a joint liaison office that it had established with South Korea in 2018.
Russia expressed concern at the renewed tensions between the Koreas.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on June 16: “We call for restraint from all the sides.”
Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating for weeks, prompted by defector groups in the South sending propaganda across the border.
Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – considered a close and powerful ally – threatened at the weekend to demolish the office.
There were hopes for improved relations between North Korea and South Korea and its close ally the US after President Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un at the North-South border last June, but nothing materialized and the atmosphere has since deteriorated.
North Korea is under crippling US and UN economic sanctions over its militarized nuclear program. Washington has not yet commented on the North’s latest action.
In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly condemned South Korea for allowing propaganda into its territory.
Defector groups regularly send such material via balloons, or even drones, into North Korea.
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