North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hailed a submarine-launched ballistic missile test as an “eye-opening success”, state media said on Sunday, declaring Pyongyang has the ability to strike Seoul and the US whenever it pleases.
The US, joined by Britain, said Saturday’s apparent test was a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and called on the North to refrain from further moves that could destabilize the region.
South Korea’s defense ministry said the launch appeared to have failed as the missile, fired from a submarine in the Sea of Japan, flew just 30 kilometers (18 miles).
However, the North’s state-run KCNA news agency insisted that the test, which it said was personally monitored by Kim, confirmed “the reliability of the Korean-style underwater launching system”.
It cited the young leader as saying that Pyongyang “is now capable of hitting the heads of the South Korean puppet forces and the US imperialists any time as it pleases.”
“This eye-opening success constitutes one more precious gift the defense scientists and technicians are presenting to the great leaders and the party,” it added.
The latest launch comes as the North gears up for a rare and much-hyped ruling party congress early next month — the first in 36 years — at which Kim is expected to take credit for pushing the country’s nuclear and missile weapons programme to new heights.
Many analysts and senior Seoul officials have suggested the regime may carry out a fifth nuclear test as a display of defiance and strength ahead of the May party congress.
In the meantime, in a rare interview with a western news agency by a leading North Korean official, Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong offered to halt nuclear tests if the United States suspends military exercises with South Korea.
While on a visit to New York for U.N. meetings, Ri told the Associated Press that his country was compelled to develop nuclear weapons to cope with what it calls U.S. nuclear threats and hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
“Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests,” Ri said.
He said “new opportunities” could come for the two countries if the exercises are suspended, but otherwise, the situation will “lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well.”
He said sanctions against the North won’t work.
“If they believe they can actually frustrate us with sanctions, they are totally mistaken,” he was quoted as saying.
Ri said it is good to see Cuba and Iran to have improved relations with the U.S., but such cases are totally different from relations between Washington and Pyongyang.