North Korea testing new long range missiles - US warns more coming

The Biden administration warned that a full-range test could soon follow of a high-power ICBM

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The Biden administration says two North Korean missile launches in recent weeks were test firings of a powerful new long-range ICBM, and warned that a full-range test could soon follow.

The tests were of a missile reportedly larger than an ICBM North Korea launched in 2017 that was assessed to be capable of reaching the United States.

American missile defence and reconnaissance forces in the Pacific have been placed in a state of “enhanced readiness” in preparation for a full-range test, a senior administration official said.

The official outlined the US intelligence assessment of the recent launches on the condition of anonymity.

North Korea has claimed the March 4 and February 26 launches were merely to test cameras to be installed on a future spy satellite.

Multiple UN Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from firing ICBMs, and the US will announce a new round of sanctions on Friday meant to make it more difficult for the country to access technology needed for its weapons programmes, the official said.

The 2017 launch was part of a series of tests that prompted then-president Donald Trump to threaten North Korea’s leaders with “fire and fury” and brought the two countries to the brink of more serious conflict.

The new missile was first revealed to the public in 2020 during celebrations marking the 75th birthday of North Korea’s Communist Party in Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Eighth Conference of Military Educationists of the Korean People's Army at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea in this undated photo released on December 7, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS        ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Eighth Conference of Military Educationists of the Korean People's Army at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea in this undated photo released on December 7, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.

It appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile that is larger than any of the North’s known ICBMs. The US official who commented on Thursday did not estimate the maximum range.

Last week’s launch was North Korea’s ninth round of weapons tests already this year as it uses a break in diplomacy to expand its military capabilities while attempting to pressure the Biden administration for concessions.

Since taking office last year, the Biden administration has reached out multiple times to North Korea in an effort to bring it back to the negotiating table after three rounds of Trump meetings with leader Kim Jong-un aimed at denuclearising the Korean peninsula brought no appreciable change in the North Korean posture.

The official said Thursday that North Korea still has not responded to any US request. Mr Biden has expressed openness to meeting with Mr Kim if denuclearisation would be on the table.

The US official said the American intelligence assessment was generated and shared in consultation with allies in the region, including South Korea and Japan.

Last week, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the March 4 missile was fired from an area near the North Korean capital and flew about 168 miles eastward at a maximum altitude of 348 miles before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The American decision to publicly share intelligence about North Korea’s launches and a potential future launch is reminiscent of US efforts to publicly call out Russia’s preparations for war in Ukraine in the weeks before the actual Russian invasion last month.