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North Korea confirms launch of Hwasong-17, its largest-ever ICBM

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North Korea confirms launch of Hwasong-17, its largest-ever ICBM
North Korea test-fired its Hwasong-17 ICBM, state media confirmed on Friday, marking the first full-scale launch of a long-range missile since 2017. Photo by KCNA/UPI

SEOUL, March 25 (UPI) -- North Korea confirmed the first-ever launch of its Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday, with state-run media saying the test was conducted as a nuclear deterrent in preparation for a "long-standing confrontation" with the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "personally guided the overall process of the test-launch of the new type ICBM Hwasongpho-17" on Thursday, Korea Central News Agency reported.

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The ICBM was fired from Pyongyang International Airport and traveled 677 miles for 67 minutes before accurately hitting a target in the sea near Japan, the KCNA report said.

The missile reached an altitude of 3,882 miles, far higher than the North's previous ICBM launches. It was fired at a lofted angle "in consideration of the security of neighboring countries," KCNA said.

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Japan said on Thursday that the missile splashed down 93 miles from the northernmost island of Hokkaido, inside its exclusive economic zone.

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Kim Jong Un had prioritized the development of the Hwasong-17 as a response to "the inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war," KCNA said.

Pyongyang's nuclear negotiations with Washington have been at a standstill since a February 2019 summit with Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump ended without an agreement. North Korea has conducted a flurry of weapons tests since the beginning of this year.

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The Hwasong-17 "exactly met the design requirements" and its launch proved that it was ready for operation "under wartime environment and conditions," the KCNA report said.

Thursday's launch marked the first ICBM fired by Pyongyang since November 2017 and brought a definitive end to a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear tests that Kim announced during a period of renewed detente with Seoul and Washington in 2018.

Images provided by KCNA Friday showed that the Hwasong-17 was fired from a mobile transporter erector launcher, or TEL, which marks a first for the secretive regime, analyst Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies noted.

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Firing from a mobile launcher would make the missile, which analysts believe may be capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, much more difficult to detect.

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The Hwasong-17 went farther, flew longer and reached a greater altitude than North Korea's previous ICBMs. Its predecessor, the Hwasong-15, hit an altitude of about 2,780 miles and traveled 950 miles in 53 minutes in November 2017.

Analysts have estimated that the missile, first shown at a military parade in October 2020, is over 80 feet long and can fly around 9,300 miles -- far enough to cover the entire continental United States.

Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the Hwasong-17 the "largest liquid propellant missile ever launched from a road-mobile launcher. Ever. Anywhere."

The launch drew immediate condemnation from the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Washington on Thursday announced new sanctions on five individuals and entities in North Korea and Russia for transferring sensitive items to the North's missile program.

"These measures are part of our ongoing efforts to impede the DPRK's ability to advance its missile program and they highlight the negative role Russia plays on the world stage as a proliferator to programs of concern," State Deptartment spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.

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The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the North's recent launches, according to its public calendar.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the missile test a breach of North Korea's self-imposed moratorium and a clear violation of Security Council resolutions.

"The launch of the long-range missile risks a significant escalation of tensions in the region," Guterrres said in a statement released by his spokesman Thursday.

South Korea's military responded Thursday with a live-fire drill of missiles from the ground, sea and air in a demonstration of its "ability and willingness to respond immediately," its Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday and said "there should be no gaps in security" in the transition to the incoming administration of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.

Yoon, the conservative candidate who won the presidential election earlier this month, will take office in May. He campaigned on taking a harder line against Pyongyang and on Friday issued a "stern warning to North Korea that there is nothing you can gain from provocations."

"South Korea will maintain a stronger security posture to protect freedom and peace," Yoon wrote on his Facebook page.

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Thursday's launch came a week after a missile believed to be an ICBM was fired from the same airport and reportedly exploded in the air near Pyongyang.

North Korea conducted a pair of missile launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 that it said were connected to a new reconnaissance satellite program. U.S. and South Korean officials concluded that they were tests of a new ICBM system.

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