North Korea says hypersonic missile makes first test flight

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

The North has also offered to improve relations with the South if certain conditions are met

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North Korea said it has successfully tested a new hypersonic missile it implied was being developed as nuclear capable.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the missile – during its first flight test on Tuesday – met key technical requirements set out by defence scientists, including launch stability and the manoeuvrability and gliding flight characteristics of the “detached hypersonic gliding warhead”.

The latest launch, which came after two rounds of missile tests this month, was shortly before North Korea’s UN envoy accused the United States of hostility and demanded the Biden administration permanently end joint military exercises with rival South Korea and the deployment of strategic assets in the region.

The North has also offered to improve relations with the South if certain conditions are met, apparently returning to its pattern of mixing weapons demonstrations with peace overtures to wrest outside concessions.

The North’s announcement came a day after the South Korean and Japanese militaries said they detected North Korea firing a ballistic missile into sea.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an immediate threat but highlighted “the destabilising impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program”.

Nuclear negotiations have stalled since the collapse of a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected the North’s demands for a major removal of US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility.

Mr Kim in recent political speeches has vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of US pressure.

His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offer to resume talks without preconditions, saying that Washington must abandon its “hostile policy” first, a term North Korea mainly uses to refer to US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program and the joint US-South Korea military drills.

Hypersonic glide vehicles, which are launched from a rocket before gliding into a target, were among a wish-list of sophisticated military assets Mr Kim issued during a ruling party meeting in January.

He has also called for more longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, and tactical nuclear arms.

The KCNA described the new missile as an important addition to the country’s “strategic” weaponry, implying that the system is being developed to deliver nuclear weapons.

The agency also said the test confirmed the stability of the missile’s “fuel ampoule”, indicating a technology to pre-fuel the liquid propellant missile and seal it in a canister so that it could stay launch-ready for years.

The North’s latest launch came after Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of Kim Jong Un, reached out to Seoul twice on Friday and Saturday, saying her country was open to resuming talks and reconciliatory steps if conditions are met.

She criticised Seoul for calling Pyongyang’s previous missile tests a provocation and demanded it abandon “unfair double-dealing standards” and “hostile policies”.