North Korea successfully conducted tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state media KCNA said, drawing criticism from the United States amid a prolonged standoff on denuclearization.
The missiles are “a strategic weapon of great importance” and traveled 1,500 km (930 miles) before hitting their targets and falling into the country’s territorial waters during tests on Saturday and Sunday, KCNA said. The missiles traveled 126 minutes along “oval and type 8 flight orbits,” he said.
The US military said the missile tests posed “threats” to the country’s neighbors and beyond.
“This activity highlights [North Korea’s] continues to focus on developing its military program and on threats to its neighbors and the international community, ”the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government was “concerned” about the information and would continue to work closely with the United States and South Korea to monitor the situation.
Images from North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed a missile emerging from one of a launcher’s five tubes in a ball of flame, and a missile in horizontal flight.
Such a weapon would represent a marked advance in North Korea’s weapon technology, analysts say, better able to prevent defense systems from launching a warhead through the South or Japan – both allies of the United States.
“It would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be explicitly designated as a ‘strategic’ role,” Ankit Panda, senior researcher at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters. “It’s a common euphemism for a nuclear capable system. “
It is not known whether North Korea has mastered the technology necessary to build warheads small enough to be carried on a cruise missile, but leader Kim Jong-un said earlier this year that the development of smaller bombs was a priority objective.
Kim does not appear to have attended the test. KCNA said Pak Jong Chon, a member of the powerful Workers’ Party political bureau and secretary of its central committee, oversaw it.
The launches reported are the first since March by the North. The regime also conducted a cruise missile test just hours after US President Joe Biden took office in January.
North Korean cruise missiles generally receive less interest than ballistic missiles because they are not explicitly banned by UN Security Council resolutions.
The unveiling of the test came just a day before key nuclear negotiators from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo to explore ways to break the stalemate with North Korea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also due to travel to Seoul on Tuesday for talks with his counterpart, Chung Eui-yong.
Talks to dismantle the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in return for US sanctions relief have stalled since 2019.
Last month, the UN atomic watchdog said North Korea appeared to have restarted a nuclear reactor that is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The Biden administration has declared itself open to diplomacy to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea, but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
Sung Kim, the US envoy to North Korea, said in Seoul in August that he was ready to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, anytime.”
A reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes for a restart of negotiations, but the North has stopped responding to calls as the annual South Korea-U.S. Military exercises began last month, which , Pyongyang said, could trigger a security crisis.
With Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse