“It would be a grave mistake for anyone to believe anything to the contrary.”
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea asked President Trump on Tuesday night to endorse the joint exercise, insisting that the allies needed to respond to the North’s provocation with “more than statements,” Mr. Moon’s office said.
The South Korean military said the missiles, which had a range of about 186 miles, were fired to test their ability to launch “a precision strike at the enemy leadership” in case of war. The military did not say how far the missiles traveled.
North Korea remained defiant. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, said Wednesday that the missile test was intended to “slap the American bastards in their face” and was a Fourth of July “gift package” for the “Yankees.”
The North Korean missile, launched at a steep angle, flew a horizontal distance of only 578 miles but reached an altitude of more than 1,700 miles, according to North Korean, South Korean and Japanese officials.
Speaking to the South Korean National Assembly on Wednesday, the defense minister, Han Min-koo, said that the Hwasong-14, if launched on a standard trajectory, could have a range of 4,350 to 4,970 miles, enough to hit Alaska and possibly Hawaii.
Analysts had said on Tuesday that the missile appeared to be capable of striking Alaska. Hawaii is farther, about 4,780 miles from Kusong, the North Korean town where the missile was fired.
A ballistic missile is considered an ICBM when its range is greater than 5,500 kilometers, or about 3,417 miles, according to military analysts.
But Mr. Han said although the Hwasong-14 was developed as an intercontinental missile, it was still too early to conclude whether North Korea had mastered long-range missile technology, especially the re-entry capability that allows an ICBM warhead to survive the intense heat and destruction of its outer shell as it plunges from space through the earth’s atmosphere.
On Wednesday, North Korea said the test showed that it had mastered the technology of operating and separating the missile’s two propulsive stages, and guiding the warhead to its target in the waters west of Japan. The warhead proved structurally safe during “the harshest atmospheric re-entry environment,” the government said, according to KCNA, the North Korean news agency.
But Mr. Han said that the real test was whether the warhead “performed its military function” after it re-entered the atmosphere.
“Even if we have more time to analyze, it’s hard to say that North Korea has succeeded in the re-entry technology,” he said.
North Korea carried the missile to its test site on a 16-wheel truck, believed to have been imported from China and reconfigured for military purposes. But the missile was launched from a platform, indicating that the country had not developed the ability to launch the missile directly from the vehicle, South Korean officials said. A missile fired from a vehicle is harder to counter because it requires less time to prepare to launch, they said.
North Korea also said its missile was capable of carrying a “large-sized heavy nuclear warhead.” Some analysts say that North Korea is probably still years away from developing nuclear warhead small and light enough to fit into a long-range rocket that could reach the continental United States.
If North Korea successfully develops an ICBM, it would drastically change strategic calculations by the United States and its allies, analysts said. Such a missile would give decision makers in Washington reason to pause before deciding to strike the country, they said.
“This new tier complements North Korea’s well-developed escalatory posture towards its neighbors,” Gabriel Dominguez and Neil Gibson, analysts affiliated with IHS Markit, said in a commentary. “The Communist country is already able to field conventional, chemical and, possibly, nuclear weapons against Seoul and Tokyo. As a result, a danger of increased North Korean military confidence is that it raises the risk of increased belligerence.”
The United States secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, issued a warning that any country hosting North Korean guest workers or providing any economic or military benefits to the North was “aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”
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