North Korea missile may not have re-entered atmosphere, report says
North Korea has not been able to fully develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, and it's unknown whether last week's launch successfully re-entered the atmosphere, the Yonhap news agency in South Korea reported Tuesday.
The missile launched July 4 had the distance to reach the U.S. mainland — and marked the latest escalation of the North's nuclear program.
North Korea said it developed an ICBM that could ferry a large nuclear warhead, but it may have been an unsubstantiated boast, Rep. Yi Wan-young of the Liberty Korea Party said after a meeting with officials from the National Intelligence Service, according to Yonhap.
Yi also said North Korea is capable of conducting a nuclear test at its Punggye-Ri site at any time, but there was no signs of an immediate detonation, the news agency reported.
The Hwasong-14 missile launched July 4 had a maximum range of about 4,163 miles, meaning it would be able to hit targets in Alaska but not the contiguous U.S. mainland or the larger islands of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
Kim Jong Un, the North's leader, attended a concert Tuesday celebrating the launch. The performances included “Song of Hwasong Rocket” and “Make Others Envy Us,” according to the nation's official Korean Central News Agency.
The United States military said the U.S. Air Force launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii on Tuesday that was intercepted by a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense system based in Kodiak, Alaska.
“This test further demonstrates the capabilities of the THAAD weapon system and its ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missile threats. THAAD continues to protect our citizens, deployed forces and allies from a real and growing threat," said U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves.
North Korea, which has been ratcheting up its tough talk against the U.S. in recent weeks, has conducted at least eight missile tests this year. It tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009, 2013 and twice in 2016. The July 4th launch was its first successful attempt at launching a long-range weapon.
Analysts said a May 14 ballistic missile launch by Pyongyang successfully re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and marked a breakthrough for the North's program, The Telegraph reported.
However, the South Korean news agency's report Tuesday seems to cast doubt on the re-entry part of the equation.
Kim vowed last week his nation would "demonstrate its mettle to the U.S." and never negotiate on its weapons program, one that it believes is needed as a deterrent to prevent a U.S. attack aimed at overthrowing the regime Kim has led since 2011.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to bring additional international pressure on the regime after last week's test.
"All nations should publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to their pursuit of nuclear weapons," Tillerson said in a statement.
After the North's test, the U.S. Army and South Korean military launched at least two surface-to-surface missiles into South Korean waters as a demonstration of their attack capabilities.