North Korea claims it tested a new guided missile

North Korea has claimed that it has tested a new guided missile, as US President Joe Biden warned of consequences if Pyongyang escalates tensions.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the two “new-type tactical guided projectiles” accurately hit the target off the eastern coast on Thursday. Photos on the website of the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a missile lifting off from a transport erector launcher amid bright flames.

KCNA quoted top official Ri Pyong Chol, who supervised the test, as saying that the new weapon’s development “is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats existing on the Korean Peninsula.”

The weapons hit a target 600 kilometres (370 miles) away, KCNA said – further than the 450 kilometres reported by South Korea’s military – and could carry a payload of 2.5 tons.

Japanese officials said both weapons tested Thursday were ballistic missiles, which are prohibited by UN security council resolutions. According to South Korean officials, North Korea fired two other missiles on Sunday but they were likely cruise missiles, which are not banned.

The test-firings were the North’s first major provocation since Biden took office in January. Some experts say North Korea aimed to apply pressure on the new US administration to boost its leverage in future talks.

“We’re consulting with our allies and partners,” Biden told a news conference on Thursday. “And there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly. But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearisation.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he would expand his weapons arsenal and build up his country’s military capability. Photograph: 朝鮮通信社/AP

Pictures in Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed grinning officers applauding after the launch, most of them not wearing masks.

Vipin Narang of MIT said it appeared to be a weapon that the North displayed at a military parade in January.

“A 2.5 ton warhead likely settles the question whether this KN23 variant is nuclear capable. It is,” he tweeted.

The United States asked for a meeting of the UN security council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea and it will take place Friday morning behind closed doors. The committee includes representatives from all 15 nations on the council.

US-North Korea talks on curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions have been in a limbo for about two years due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North. In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he would expand his weapons arsenal and build up his country’s military capability to cope with what he called American hostility.

KCNA said the new weapon’s warhead weight has been improved to 2.5 tons. It said Thursday’s test also confirmed the reliability of the improved version of the weapon’s solid fuel engine and its irregular orbit features of low-altitude gliding leap.

South Korean observers said the weapon is likely an upgraded North Korean version of the Russian-made Iskander, a short-range nuclear-capable missile designed to fly at a low altitude and make in-flight guidance adjustments. They said it has a better chance of evading missile defence systems in South Korea.

With Agence France-Presse and Associated Press