SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hailed a submarine-launched ballistic missile test as an “eye-opening success,” state media said 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 anytime 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.
North Korea has been pushing to acquire submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability that would take its nuclear strike threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and the potential to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.
The isolated country has conducted a number of what it says were successful SLBM tests, but experts question the claim, suggesting Pyongyang had gone little further than a “pop-up” test from a submerged platform.
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 program to new heights.
Tension has been running high on the divided Korean peninsula since Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January and rocket launch a month later widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test.
The UN Security Council responded by slapping its strongest sanctions to date last month.
Pyongyang has since staged a series of short- and mid-range missile tests, claiming it had acquired significant technical breakthroughs in its nuclear strike capability.
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.