North Korea claims that the missile it tested on May 14 was a new type of rocket capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead.
The missile, launched at a steep angle, reached an altitude of 1,242 miles and traveled about 440 miles, landing in the sea west of Japan.
North Korea said on May 15 it was a test of the abilities of a “newly developed ballistic rocket”.
South Korea’s military said it could not yet verify North Korea’s claims.
However it said North Korea’s missiles did appear to be able to leave and re-enter the atmosphere, which is crucial to developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Yonhap news agency reported.
Repeated missile tests by North Korea this year – not all of them successful but all a breach of UN sanctions – have sparked international alarm and raised tensions with the US.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said on May 15 that the test of a “newly developed mid/long-range strategic ballistic rocket, Hwasong-12” had gone to plan.
“The test-fire aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” it said.
North Korea is known to be developing both nuclear weapons – it has conducted five nuclear tests – and the missiles capable of delivering those weapons to their target. Both are in defiance of UN sanctions.
However, it remains unclear whether it has the ability to make the weapons small enough to be mounted on a rocket, and it has never tested a long-range ICBM which could reach, for example, the US.
ICBM’s are considered to have a range of about 6,000km, but analysts believe the missile tested on May 14 would have travelled about 4,000km if it had been fired at a standard trajectory rather than upwards.
The KCNA report said that, as ever, the test had been overseen by North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
It said Kim Jong-un had told the scientists and technicians involved “not to be complacent” but to build further “nuclear weapons and methods of delivery” until the US made “the right choice”.
The White House has mooted talks with North Korea under the right conditions, which would include a halt in missile tests.
In a statement on May 14, the White House said Pyongyang had been “a flagrant menace for far too long” and that this “latest provocation” should “serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions”.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said on May 14 that until Kim Jong-un meets the US conditions, “we’re not sitting down with him”.
South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-in, who is seeking deeper engagement with North Korea, said it was a “reckless provocation”.