Grinning broadly, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delighted in the global furor created by his nation’s first launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), vowing Wednesday to never abandon nuclear weapons and to keep sending Washington more “gift packages” of missile and atomic tests.
US and South Korean forces, in response to Tuesday’s launch, engineered a show of force for North Korean capital Pyongyang, with soldiers from the allies firing “deep strike” precision missiles into South Korean territorial waters.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered the drills arranged with the United States to show “North Korea our firm combined missile response posture,” his office said.
The North Korean test of an ICBM is a momentous step forward for Pyongyang as it works to build an arsenal of long-range nuclear-armed missiles that can hit anywhere in the United States.
Some analysts suggest it will take several more years to perfect such an arsenal, and many more tests — but a successful launch of an ICBM has long been seen as a red line.
Worry spread in Washington and at the United Nations, where the US, Japan and South Korea requested a UN Security Council emergency session, to be held later Wednesday.
The uproar only seemed to inspire the North, whose propaganda machine rarely fails to aggrandize its leader and its military or to thumb its nose at rivals Seoul and Washington.
A report in its state media Wednesday described leader Kim Jong Un as “feasting his eyes” on the ICBM, which was said to be capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead. “With a broad smile on his face,” Kim urged his scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees,” in an apparent reference to continue the stream of nuclear and missile tests Kim has ordered since taking power in late 2011.
The North was also pleased that its test came as Americans celebrated Independence Day. Kim Jong Un, according to the state media report, told “scientists and technicians that the US would be displeased to witness the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) ‘package of gifts’ on its ‘Independence Day.’” The North has a history of conducting weapons tests on or around July 4.
The test — North Korea’s most successful yet — is a direct rebuke to President Donald Trump’s earlier declaration that such a test “won’t happen!”
The launch sends a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, while also allowing North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program. It came days after the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Moon and ahead of a summit of the world’s richest economies.
Soon after the launch, Trump responded on Twitter: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
“This guy” presumably refers to Kim. China is North Korea’s economic lifeline and only major ally, and the Trump administration is pushing Beijing to do more to push the North toward disarmament.
Regional disarmament talks on North Korea’s nuclear program have been deadlocked since 2009, when the North pulled out of the negotiations to protest international condemnation over a long-range rocket launch.
Last year, North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth atomic bomb tests and claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in its efforts to develop long-range nuclear missiles. The fifth nuclear test in September was the North’s most powerful atomic detonation to date.
The Korean Peninsula has been divided since the end of World War II.
Almost 30,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea.