SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to counter U.S. nuclear threats with nuclear weapons, state news agency KCNA said on Saturday while inspecting an intercontinental ballistic missile test in the country.
The isolated country tested a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday, a day after it warned of “fierce military responses” to Washington, which has beefed up its regional security presence including on nuclear assets.
Kim, who is attending the site with his daughter for the first time, said threats from the United States and its allies to pursue a hostile policy prompted his country to “significantly accelerate the strengthening of its overwhelming nuclear deterrent.”
“Kim Jong Un solemnly declared that if enemies continue to pose threats… our party and government will resolutely respond to nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons and to full confrontation with all-out confrontation,” the official KCNA said.
The KCNA said the launch of the Hwasong-17 was part of North Korea’s “top-priority defense-building strategy” aimed at establishing the “strongest and most powerful absolute nuclear deterrent,” calling it “the world’s most powerful strategic weapon.”
The agency added that the missile flew about 1,000 km for a period of 69 minutes and reached a maximum height of 6,041 km. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the weapon could have a range of 15,000 km, which is enough to reach the United States.
The South Korean military said its F-35A fighters and US F-16s escorted the US B-1B bombers as they conducted joint exercises Saturday, aimed at improving their ability to rapidly deploy expanded US deterrence assets.
North Korea’s foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, on Thursday denounced Sunday’s trilateral summit between the United States, South Korea and Japan, during which the leaders criticized Pyongyang’s continued weapons tests and pledged more security cooperation.
Choe pointed to a series of recent joint military exercises and efforts to bolster an expanded US deterrence, including its nuclear forces to deter attacks on the two key Asian allies.
Kim said the test confirmed “another reliable and supreme capability to contain any nuclear threat” at a time when he needed to warn Washington and its allies that military moves against Pyongyang would lead to their “destruction”.
“Our party and government must clearly show their strongest will to respond to the enemies’ hysterical war-of-aggression maneuvers,” he said.
“The more the US imperialists perform military deception… while engaging in their allies’ ‘strong display of extended deterrence’ and war exercises, the more offensive the DPRK’s military counter-response will be.”
Kim referred to his country by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
He ordered faster development of strategic weapons, more intensive training of ICBMs and tactical nuclear weapons units to ensure that they perform their duties flawlessly “in any situation and at any moment,” KCNA said.
Unveiled at a military parade in October 2020 and first tested last March, the latest test of the Hwasong-17 demonstrated the capabilities of a weapon potentially capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the United States.
Some analysts speculated that it would be designed to carry multiple warheads and decoys to better penetrate missile defenses.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss North Korea at the request of the United States, which along with South Korea and Japan strongly condemned the recent launch.
China and Russia backed tougher sanctions in the wake of Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test in 2017, but in May the two countries vetoed a US-led push for more UN sanctions over renewed missile launches.
ICBMs are North Korea’s longest-range weapon, and Friday’s launch is the eighth ICBM test this year, based on a tally from the US State Department.
Officials from South Korea and the United States have reported a number of North Korean ICBM failures, including a launch on November 3 that appeared to be a high-altitude failure.
Reporting from Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Jonathan Otis, Sandra Mahler and Jerry Doyle
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