By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to counter U.S. nuclear threats with nuclear weapons as he inspected a test of the country’s new intercontinental ballistic missile, state media KCNA said on Saturday.
The isolated country tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday a day after warning of “fiercer military responses” to Washington beefing up its regional security presence including nuclear assets.
Attending the site with his daughter for the first time, Kim said threats from the United States and its allies pursing a hostile policy prompted his country to “substantially accelerate the bolstering of its overwhelming nuclear deterrence.”
“Kim Jong Un solemnly declared that if the enemies continue to pose threats … our party and government will resolutely react to nukes with nuclear weapons and to total confrontation with all-out confrontation,” the official KCNA news agency said.
The launch of the Hwasong-17 ICBM was part of the North’s “top-priority defence-building strategy” aimed at building “the most powerful and absolute nuclear deterrence,” KCNA said, calling it “the strongest strategic weapon in the world.”
The missile flew nearly 1,000 km (621 miles) for about 69 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 6,041 km, KCNA said. Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the weapon could travel as far as 15,000 km (9,320 miles), enough to reach the continental United States.
On Thursday, North Korea’s foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, denounced a trilateral summit on Sunday of the United States, South Korea and Japan, during which the leaders criticised Pyongyang’s ongoing weapons tests and pledged greater security cooperation.
Choe singled out a recent series of their joint military drills and efforts to reinforce American extended deterrence, including its nuclear forces to deter attacks on the two key Asian allies.
Kim said the test confirmed “another reliable and maximum capacity to contain any nuclear threat” at a time when he needed to warn Washington and its allies that military moves against Pyongyang would lead to their “self-destruction.”
“Our party and government should clearly demonstrate their strongest will to retaliate the hysteric aggression war drills by the enemies,” he said.
“And they have to reconsider a wise choice to improve their security environment.”