North Korea recently used what would be its largest ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system in two secretive launches, likely paving the way for a resumption of long-range tests, US and South Korean officials said.
North Korea froze its ICBM and nuclear tests in 2017 after launching its first missiles capable of reaching the US. It has also not conducted a nuclear weapons test since, but leader Kim Jong-un has warned of a return to testing both.
In launches on Feb 27 and March 5, North Korea did not specify what missile was used but said they tested components for reconnaissance satellites Kim said would soon be launched to monitor military activity by the US and its allies.
The US and South Korea both said the missile system, known as the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at an October 2020 military parade in Pyongyang and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
“The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The US Treasury, which has imposed a range of sanctions on North Korea over its weapons programmes, will announce new actions on Friday to help prevent North Korea “accessing foreign items and technology that enable it to advance its weapons programmes” (a senior US administration official told reporters on Thursday in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity).
Japan is also considering imposing additional sanctions against North Korea, as well as other diplomatic options, Kishida told reporters after a phone call with the South Korean president-elect.