On Saturday, North Korean Central news agency (KCNA) stated that Kim Jong-un supervised the successful testing of a new ‘indigenously designed’ engine for its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), an improved version of the KN-08, which will allow it to target the United States.
The test was conducted at the Sohae Space Center in the country’s northwest, the site of its February long-range rocket launch, on an unspecified date.
If true, this would be a big step forward for North Korea which conducted its 4th nuclear test earlier this year.
The ICBM was paraded at the 70th anniversary celebrations of the creation of the ruling party, in Pyongyang. The regime has boasted of major technical leaps and bounds in its arms programme and has threatened pre-emptive strikes against the US.
“Dear Comrade, Kim Jong-un said now we can mount an ever more powerful nuclear warhead on a new intercontinental ballistic rocket and put the den of evil in the United States and all over the world within our strike range,” the news agency said.
Previous estimates of North Korea’s firepower had been that it was just able to reach the continental United States, but if it had successfully manufactured an 80-ton booster, that would put the U.S. mainland within relatively easy reach, analysts said.
The US and neighbouring countries of North Korea consider this test as well as last month’s launch of a medium-range-missile as a violation of UN Security Council Resolutions which ban any ballistic activities by North Korea.
Pyongyang had conducted a nuclear test on January 6 which prompted talks between China and the US to discuss tough UN sanctions resolutions.
“With all the missiles they’re building, the ranges are getting longer and they’re going to be able to throw more stuff further,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. “It seems pretty clear that they’re sick of us making fun of them, and they’re going to shove it down our throats,” Lewis added.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called on North Korea to ‘refrain from actions and rhetoric that further destabilize the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its commitments and international obligations’.
The test comes at a time when the US and South Korea are conducting joint military drills. North Korea has fired short-range missiles and artillery into the sea, apparently in response.
Some analysts think young leader Kim Jong-un’s aggressive posturing is linked to a major ruling party congress next month meant to further cement his grip on power.
It is meant to show the North Korean people that Kim is standing up to powerful enemies trying to crush the North and probably also to divert attention from the lack of any substantial economic achievements ahead of the Workers’ Party congress, the first since 1980, said Kim Dong-yub, a North Korean expert at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
North’s KCNA said that the North Korean leader was delighted as the ‘high-power’ rocket engine spewed out ‘huge flames with (a) deafening boom’ during the ground test.
The agency quoted Kim as saying that the North can now tip intercontinental ballistic missiles with more powerful nuclear warheads that could keep the US mainland within striking distance and ‘reduce them to ashes so that they may not survive in our planet’.