SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state media said Monday, which analysts see as possibly the country’s first such weapon with nuclear capability.
The missiles were “a strategic weapon of great concern” and flew 1,500 km (930 miles) before hitting their targets and falling into the country’s territorial waters during tests on Saturday and Sunday, KCNA said.
The latest test showed steady progress on Pyongyang’s weapons program amid an impasse in talks aimed at dismantling the north’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in return for easing US sanctions. Talks have stalled since 2019.
North Korea’s cruise missiles tend to attract less interest than ballistic missiles because they are not specifically prohibited by United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“This would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be specifically assigned a ‘strategic’ role,” said Ankit Panda, Senior Fellow of the US Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is a common euphemism for nuclear-capable systems.”
It’s unclear whether North Korea has mastered the technology needed to build warheads small enough to be carried on a cruise missile, but President Kim Jong Un said earlier this year that developing smaller bombs is a top priority may be.
North Korea and South Korea are embroiled in an accelerating arms race that analysts fear will litter the region with powerful new missiles.
The South Korean military did not reveal whether it had spotted the north’s recent tests, but said Monday that it was working with the US on a detailed analysis.
The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific command said it knew the reports and was coordinating with its allies and partners.
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Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party, published photos of the new cruise missile flying and fired by a transporter erector launcher.
The test offers “strategic importance to have another effective deterrent to ensure the security of our state more reliably and to strongly contain the military maneuvers of the enemy armed forces,” said KCNA.
It was considered the north’s first missile launch after a new short-range tactical missile was tested in March. North Korea also carried out a cruise missile test just a few hours after US President Joe Biden took office at the end of January.
The test was revealed the day before the chief negotiators of the US, South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo to explore ways to break the stalemate with North Korea.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also due to visit Seoul on Tuesday for talks with his counterpart Chung Eui-yong.
Biden’s government has said it is open to diplomacy to denuclearize North Korea, but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
Sung Kim, the US envoy to North Korea, said in Seoul in August that he was ready to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, anytime”.
A reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes of resumption of negotiations, but the North stopped answering calls last month when the annual South Korea-US military exercises began last month, which Pyongyang warned could spark a security crisis.