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North Korea Warns Its Ballistic Missile Can Carry A Nuclear Warhead

Pyongyang warned that "US mainland and Pacific operations" are within range of North Korean missiles.

Last updated on May 14, 2017, at 6:19 p.m. ET

Posted on May 13, 2017, at 7:12 p.m. ET

KCNA / Reuters

A photo, reportedly of Sunday's missile launch, released by North Korean state media.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday morning from the country's west coast, marking Pyongyang's first provocative act since South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, took office.

The North Korean regime said that the test proved the missile is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, according to a report Monday from state news agency KCNA.

"The test-fire proved to the full all the technical specifications of the rocket," the regime said in a statement to the news agency. "It also verified the homing feature of the warhead under the worst re-entry situation and accurate performance of detonation system."

The launch was supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who "hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they worked hard to achieve a great thing," according to the KCNA report.


A photo released by North Korean state media of leader Kim Jung Un reportedly celebrating Sunday's launch.

Launched from the country's Kusong region, on the west coast, the missile flew more than 430 miles and reached an altitude of more than 1,245 miles, before crashing into the Sea of Japan, according to South Korean and Japanese military officials. North Korea offered a similar account of the missile's trajectory Monday.

"Our military is closely monitoring for provocative movements by North Korea and is maintaining all readiness postures," the South Korean military said in a statement Sunday. The US military also confirmed that it had detected and tracked the missile, and was assessing the nature of the launch.

"The flight was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile," Marine Corps Maj. Rob Shuford, a spokesperson for US Pacific Command, said in a statement. The missile did not pose a threat to North America, he added.

The North Korean report on the launch seems to confirm that Sunday's test involved a new type of intermediate-range ballistic missile. David Wright, codirector of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the launch may have involved the mysterious two-stage liquid-fueled missile displayed at North Korea's annual military parade last month.

Rodong Sinmun

A photo released by North Korean state media of Sunday's missile launch.

"The other missiles that we’ve seen them test, successfully or unsuccessfully, haven’t had this range, so that tells us this is a new missile," Wright told BuzzFeed News. If the missile had been launched on a standard trajectory — rather than at unusually high altitude — it appears it would have a technical range of 2,800 miles, Wright said.

That would put the missile within reach of Guam, though still far short of reaching the Pacific Coast of the United States. Of greater concern, experts said Sunday, is that the latest missile test could indicate that North Korea is making significant strides toward developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

North Korea warned the US against provoking the country, saying that "its mainland and Pacific operation region are in the DPRK's sighting range for strike."

Peter Aldhous/BuzzFeed News

The launch — the first since North Korea's failed missile test on April 29 — comes at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, and as the United States attempts to make a show of force in the region to slow the advancement of Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. North Korea has attempted at least nine missile launches since US President Donald Trump took office in January.

In a statement late Saturday, the White House confirmed that the president had been briefed on the launch, and emphasized the missile's close proximity to the Russia.

"With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased," the statement read.

"North Korea has been a flagrant menace for far too long. South Korea and Japan have been watching this situation closely with us," the White House added. "The United States maintains our ironclad commitment to stand with our allies in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea. Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea."

Rodong Sinmun

North Korea's leader observes Sunday's test firing in a photo released by North Korean state media.

Several hours later, the Russian Defense Ministry released its own statement, saying that the missile had posed "no danger" to the country.

Just one day before the launch, a North Korean diplomat told South Korea's Yonhap News Agency that the regime would be willing to hold talks with the US "under the right conditions." Trump himself has said he would be "honored" to meet with Kim Jung Un if such a meeting were deemed appropriate.

In South Korea, Moon, the country's new liberal president, met with security officials Sunday to review the launch, calling it a serious provocation, according to Yonhap. Moon, who was sworn into office last week, has advocated direct dialogue with North Korea to de-escalate tensions.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.