North Korea tests new missile potentially capable of carrying nuclear warheads

Kim Jong-un issued a new challenge to Joe Biden by testing his first long-range cruise missile potentially capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

n its first tests since March, Pyongyang at the weekend fired missiles that flew for more than two hours at 1,497kmh above its own territory and waters, calling them a “strategic weapon of great significance”.

Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “This would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be explicitly designated a ‘strategic’ role. This is a common euphemism for a nuclear-capable system.”

Last night, the White House said it remained willing to engage with North Korea following the cruise missile tests.

Karine Jean-Pierre, its spokesman, said: “Our position has not changed when it comes to North Korea, we remain prepared to engage.”

Melissa Hanham, of Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Cooperation, said the missiles represented “another significant milestone for North Korea’s nuclear programme”.

She said Mr Kim was probably aiming to put them on submarines and other naval vessels. “Cruise missiles are almost like little airplanes, they can be very accurate, they can turn corners,” she said. “They can go into valleys where radars would not see them easily. It would be a much more difficult problem for South Korea and Japan to monitor.”

The tests were a clear message to Washington as Sung Kim, Mr Biden’s special representative for North Korea, was due in Tokyo yesterday to meet his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to discuss stalled nuclear talks with North Korea.

Mr Kim’s government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first – a reference to the US maintaining sanctions and a military alliance with South Korea.

Pyongyang said the new missiles had been in development for two years.

They flew “along an oval and pattern-8 flight orbits” and hit their targets, the regime claimed. It remained unclear whether Pyongyang has developed the technology for warheads small enough to be carried on a cruise missile.

Images in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a missile being fired out of one of five tubes on a launch vehicle and travelling horizontally.

Experts said it was an advance in North Korea’s capability that would make it better able to avoid South Korean and Japanese defence systems.

Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s chief government spokesman, said it would “pose a threat to the peace and security of Japan and the surrounding region” and that “Japan has significant concerns”.

North Korea is under international sanctions over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes. However, it is not banned from developing cruise missiles.

Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said: “If the North has sufficiently miniaturised a nuclear warhead, it can be loaded on to a cruise missile as well. It’s very likely that there will be more tests.”

Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said: “By choosing cruise missiles, North Korea is trying not to provoke the US and China too much.” (© Telegraph Media Group 2021)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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