North Korea has released photographs showing the test-firing of its largest missile in recent years this weekend, as it tries to use launches of missiles capable of reaching US territories to pressure the Biden administration into resuming nuclear negotiations.
According to the state-run KCNA news agency, Korea launched an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile capable of hitting the US Pacific territory of Guam on Monday. The missile marked the regime’s most powerful test since late 2017.
The launch on Sunday appears to be part of an effort by Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, to gain sanctions relief and international acknowledgement of its position as a legitimate nuclear state.
Following a succession of short-range missile launches, some experts believe the government is preparing to test nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching areas of the US mainland.
In Joe Biden’s leadership, Washington has offered talks “without preconditions” but has rejected North Korean demands for sanctions relief and other concessions as a preliminary to dialogue.
There are no indications that Biden, who authorised the first North Korean sanctions earlier this month, is contemplating a return to the direct diplomacy that resulted in three summits between Kim and Donald Trump.
Kim has been present at prior launches but was not there for the test on Sunday. According to a senior US official, the US is concerned that North Korea’s increased missile tests might pave the way for the restart of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile testing.
“They are looking to take actions, which we believe are fundamentally destabilising, as a way to increase pressure,” the official said in a briefing. “I think that there probably is a component that is also to validate the systems that they’ve developed and further refine them.”
KCNA released two sets of photographs from Sunday’s test, one of which showed the missile rising from its launcher near the country’s border with China, and the other showed images from space obtained by a camera fitted on the missile’s warhead. The validity of the photographs has not been confirmed. It went on to say that the missile was launched on a high trajectory “for the safety of neighbouring countries.”
According to estimates from the South Korean and Japanese forces, it travelled around 800 kilometres (497 miles). It reached a maximum height of 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) before crashing into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.
This year, North Korea has issued the US its statement by displaying a Hwasong-12. When launched along a conventional trajectory, the nuclear-capable ground-to-ground missile can reach any place in Japan, Guam and the far western edge of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands group.
Observers assume the North will halt missile testing while the Winter Olympics are held in China, its most important ally and major aid donor, but warn that it may launch more powerful missiles once the Games are over later this month.