North Korea test-fired a Hwasong-12 "intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile" on Sunday, state-run media confirmed Monday, at a time when the nuclear-armed nation has been increasing its military pressure on the United States.
The launch came after Pyongyang recently hinted at resuming nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, saying it may restart all "activities" that it had temporarily suspended to build trust with the United States.
It is believed to be North Korea's first launch of an intermediate- or longer-range ballistic missile since November 2017, when tensions with the United States escalated before the two nations held their first-ever summit in June the following year.
Sunday's firing was "conducted by the highest-angle launch system from the northwestern part of the country toward the waters" of the Sea of Japan "in consideration of the security of neighboring countries," the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The Hwasong-12 missile is "being deployed," the report added, saying North Korea has "confirmed the accuracy, security and effectiveness of the operation" of the weapon system under production.
The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party of Korea, on Monday ran photos of projectiles believed to be Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has often been present for missile tests, was not reported to have witnessed Sunday's test-firing.
On Sunday, South Korea said the North fired what appeared to be the longest-range ballistic missile since 2017. It marked the seventh round of missile launches by Pyongyang since the beginning of 2022.
Flying on a lofted trajectory, the latest missile traveled about 800 kilometers for 30 minutes to a point over the Sea of Japan and reached an altitude of 2,000 km, Seoul said.
North Korea's test of a longer-range ballistic missile violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, and observers say it indicates that Pyongyang is eager to bring the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to the negotiating table to discuss sanctions relief.
The Japanese Defense Ministry estimates the Hwasong-12's range at up to 5,000 km, which would bring the entire Japanese archipelago and the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific within its reach.1
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi condemned on Monday the series of missile tests, saying, "It is clear that the aim is to unilaterally escalate the stage of provocation against the international community."
Referring to Hwansong-12's last launch in September 2017 and that North Korea said at the time that it had obtained the capability for usage, Sunday's launch "would suggest that it is more in the practical and production stage," Kishi said.
In November 2017, North Korea launched what it said was its "most powerful" Hwasong-15 ICBM, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere in the continental United States. Kim then declared the completion of "the state nuclear force."
On Jan. 1, 2018, however, Kim surprisingly extended an olive branch to South Korea in his New Year's address, and later in the year pledged to achieve "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.
At the summit in June 2018 in Singapore between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump, Biden's predecessor, Washington promised to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang in return for "complete" denuclearization of the nation.
Since then, Pyongyang has refrained from nuclear and ICBM tests, but U.S.-North Korea negotiations have been stalled for more than two years due to their disagreements over denuclearization and sanctions relief.
In recent years, Pyongyang has carried out test-firings of hard-to-intercept short-range missiles that can fly at low altitudes.
The Biden administration, which was launched in January 2021, had voiced willingness to hold talks with North Korea, but it imposed additional sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its spate of missile tests this month.
North Korea has criticized the U.S. move, claiming that beefing up its national defense capabilities is the legitimate right of a sovereign state.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, meanwhile, North Korea's economy has been sluggish as it has sealed its borders to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, choking its trade with China -- Pyongyang's most influential ally in economic terms.