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N Korea says tested most powerful missile since 2017, took pictures from space

It was the seventh conducted by North Korea this month
and the first time a nuclear-capable missile of that size had been launched
since 2017.

The launch was first reported by South Korean and
Japanese authorities on Sunday, who condemned it as a threat to regional
security.

“The inspection firing test was conducted for the
purpose of selectively inspecting the ground-to-ground mid-range long-range
ballistic missile Hwasong-12 and verifying the overall accuracy of this weapon
system,” North Korean state news agency KCNA said. North Korea has
previously said the Hwasong-12 can carry a “large-size heavy nuclear
warhead.”

KCNA said the missile launch was conducted in such a way
as to ensure the safety of neighbouring countries, and that the test warhead
was fitted with a camera that took photos while it was in space.

Photos released by state media showed space-based
images of North Korea and the surrounding areas through a round camera lens.
North Korea first took such photos in 2017, analysts said.

Leader Kim Jong Un was not reported to have attended
the test, which was at least the seventh launch in January, one of the busiest
ever for North Korea’s advancing missile programme.

On Sunday South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the
launch takes North Korea a step closer to fully scrapping a self-imposed
moratorium on testing its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles
(ICBMs).

Kim has said he is no longer bound by that moratorium,
which included a stop to nuclear weapons tests and was announced in 2018 amid a
flurry of diplomacy and summits with then-US President Donald Trump.

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North Korea suggested this month it could restart
those testing activities because the United States and its allies had shown no
sign of dropping their “hostile policies.”

BIGGER MISSILES

The United States shares the concerns that North
Korea’s escalating missile tests could be precursors to resumed tests of
nuclear weapons and ICBMs, a senior US official said on Sunday night, while
urging Pyongyang to join direct talks with no preconditions.

“They are looking to take actions, which we
believe are fundamentally destabilizing, as a way to increase pressure,”
the official told a briefing of journalists in Washington. “I think that
there probably is a component that is also to validate the systems that they’ve
developed and further refine them.”

It is unclear if IRBMs such as the Hwasong-12 were
included in Kim’s moratorium, but those, too, have not been tested since 2017.

That year North Korea flight-tested the Hwasong-12 at
least six times, achieving three successful flights and three failures.

Controversially, in two of those tests North Korea
launched the missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

In Sunday’s test, North Korea said it fired the
missile on an elevated trajectory “in consideration of the safety of
neighbouring countries.”

The test “confirmed the accuracy, safety, and
operational effectiveness of the produced Hwasong-12 type weapon system,”
KCNA said.

The Hwasong-12 has an estimated range of 4,500
kilometres (2,796 miles), which would put the US territory of Guam and the far
western tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain within reach, according to the
Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

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By comparison, the largest, most powerful missile
North Korea has tested to date is the Hwasong-15 ICBM, with an estimated range
of 8,500–13,000 km, which could threaten anywhere in the United States, CSIS
said. The Hwasong-15 was tested once, in November 2017.

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