The United States warned the North Korean leadership that it would “utterly destroyed” if war were to break out, after Pyongyang test fired its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile, putting the U.S. mainland within range.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said all options were on the table in dealing with North Korea, including military ones, but has said it still prefers a diplomatic option.
Still, speaking at an emergency UN Security Council meeting, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley warned:
“We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it. If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday… And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”
Haley said the United States has asked China to cut off oil supply to North Korea, a drastic step that Beijing — the North’s sole major trading partner — has so far refrained from doing.
Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier on Wednesday and said more sanctions on Pyongyang would be enforced.
“Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Previous U.S. administrations have failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and a sophisticated missile program. Trump has also struggled to contain Pyongyang since he came to office in January.
Urging China to use its leverage on Pyongyang and promising more sanctions against North Korea are two strategies that have borne little fruit so far.
More sanctions urged
The latest missile was fired a week after Trump put North Korea back on a U.S. list of countries it says support terrorism, allowing it to impose more sanctions.
United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman met with North Korea’s Ambassador Ja Song Nam on Wednesday to tell him Pyongyang must “desist from taking any further destabilizing steps” after the country launched another ballistic missile.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he was counting on UN Security Council members China and Russia to step up sanctions on North Korea.
“I am counting a lot in particular on China and Russia in order to take the most difficult and effective sanctions,” Macron told France 24 television.
North Korea, which conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, has tested dozens of ballistic missiles under Kim’s leadership in defiance of international sanctions.
Pyongyang has said its weapons programs are a necessary defence against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called on North Korea on Wednesday to stop its missile and nuclear tests and for the United States and South Korea not to hold military drills in December as it would “inflame an already explosive situation.”
North Korea said the new missile soared to an altitude of about 4,475 kilometres — more than 10 times the height of the International Space Station — and flew 950 kilometres during its 53-minute flight.
It flew higher and longer than any North Korean missile before, landing in the sea near Japan. Experts said the new “Hwasong-15” missile theoretically gave North Korea the ability to hit the United States, including the East Coast, although it was not clear whether it could carry a nuclear weapon.
Photos released by North Korean state media appeared to show a missile being positioned on the launch site by a mobile vehicle, designed to allow the missile to be fired from a wider number of areas to prevent it being intercepted before launch.
Kim is shown laughing and smiling with officials both next to the missile as it is readied, and in a control booth. The launch itself shows the missile lifting off amid smoke and fire, with Kim watching from a field in the distance.
U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded from satellite and other data that the test missile was fired from a fixed position, not a mobile launcher, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
Two of the officials, who both follow developments in North Korea closely, said that while the test appears to demonstrate a more powerful North Korean solid-fuel propulsion system, especially in its second stage rocket, it is far from clear that North Korea has developed a weapon that could reliably deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. mainland.
Missile capabilities unclear
The two officials also said the North has not proved it has an accurate guidance system for an intercontinental ballistic missile or a re-entry vehicle capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and surviving a return from space through Earth’s atmosphere.
The photos revealed some developments in missile technology, including a larger diameter, which could allow the missile to carry a larger warhead and use a more powerful engine, said David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based non-profit science advocacy group.
U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials all agreed the missile, which landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, was likely an ICBM.
An international meeting in Canada in January is designed to produce “better ideas” to ease tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, Canadian officials said on Wednesday, although North Korea itself will not be invited.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the United States has “a long list of additional potential sanctions, some of which involve potential financial institutions, and the Treasury Department will be announcing those when they’re ready to roll those out.”