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North Korea conducts its largest ballistic missile test: S Korea, Japan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP)

North Korea has conducted what is suspected to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, South Korea and Japan said.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Thursday it detected the launch of an "unidentified projectile" from North Korea. Japan's government also reported the launch, and said it could be a ballistic missile.

It would be the first full-capability launch of the North's largest missiles since 2017, and represents a major step in the country's development of weapons that could potentially deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States.

Japanese authorities said the launch appeared to be a "new type" of ICBM that flew for about 71 minutes to an altitude of about 6,000km (3,728 miles) and a range of 1,100km (684 miles) from its launch site.

The launch came after North Korea on March 16 fired a suspected missile that apparently exploded shortly after liftoff in the skies over Pyongyang, amid reports that the nuclear-armed state was preparing to test-fire its largest missile yet.

The United States and South Korea have warned in recent weeks that North Korea may be preparing to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at full range for the first time since 2017.

US officials said that at least two recent tests, on Feb. 27 and March 5, featured North Korea's largest ICBM system yet, the Hwasong-17.

“The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch,” a US official said at the time.

Last year, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un announced a new five-year plan for developing weapons and issued an ambitious program that included hyper-sonic weapons, spy satellites, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

Kim has focused on expanding his country's nuclear and missile capabilities since diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump ended without an agreement in 2019. 

Trump took unprecedented steps towards détente with the North by initiating several rounds of dialogue with North Korea's leader.

However, Washington blew what Pyongyang called a “golden opportunity” at mending the ties by insisting too much on the North’s denuclearization and failing to accommodate its security concerns.  

Pyongyang has rebuffed the administration President Joe Biden’s repeated offers of nuclear negotiations.

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