North Korea’s missile programme is progressing faster than expected, South Korea’s defence minister said on Tuesday, after the UN Security Council demanded the North halt all nuclear and ballistic missile tests and condemned Sunday’s test-launch.
Han Min-koo told South Korea’s parliament the test-launch had been detected by the controversial U.S. THAAD anti-missile system, whose deployment in the South has infuriated China.
The reclusive North, which has defied all calls to rein in its weapons programmes, even from its lone major ally, China, said the missile test was a legitimate defence against U.S. hostility.
The North has been working on a missile, mounted with a nuclear warhead, capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has called for an immediate halt to Pyongyang’s provocations and has warned that the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over. U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said on Tuesday China’s leverage was key and it could do more.
Han said Sunday’s test-launch was “successful in flight”.
“It is considered an IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) of enhanced calibre compared to Musudan missiles that have continually failed,” he said, referring to a class of missile designed to travel up to 3,000 to 4,000 km (1,860 to 2,485 miles).
Asked if North Korea’s missile programme was developing faster than the South had expected, he said: “Yes.”
Han said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile unit deployed by the U.S. military in the South detected the North Korean missile, marking the first time the controversial system has been put to use since its deployment last month.
China has strongly opposed THAAD, whose radar it fears could be used to spy into its territory, despite assurances from Washington that THAAD is purely defensive. South Korean companies, from automakers to retailers and cosmetics firms, have been hit in China by a nationalist backlash over Seoul’s decision to deploy the system.
The North’s KCNA news agency said Sunday’s launch tested its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”. Its ambassador to China said in Beijing on Monday it would continue such test launches “any time, any place”.
The test-launch was a legitimate act of self-defence and U.S. criticism was a “wanton violation of the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK”, a North Korean diplomat told the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday.