Pyongyang: North Korea said on Thursday it was completing plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam in an unusually detailed threat that further heightened tensions with the United States.
North Korea’s army will complete the plans in mid-August, when they will be ready for leader Kim Jong Un’s order, state-run KCNA news agency reported, citing General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army. The plans called for the missiles to land in the sea only 30-40 km (18-25 miles) from Guam.
The reclusive communist country, technically still at war with the United States and South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty, is known for making bellicose threats.
Experts in South Korea said North Korea’s plans ratcheted up risks significantly, since Washington was likely to view any missile aimed at its territory as a provocation, even if launched as a test. North Korea has carried out a series of missile and nuclear bomb tests in defiance of the international community.
North Korea announced the plans following U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday that any threats by Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” remarks that KCNA called “a load of nonsense.”
North Korea’s apparently rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland has fuelled tensions that erupted into a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang this week, unnerving regional powers and global investors.
World stocks fell for a third day, with shares in Seoul slumping to a seven-week low.The rising tensions between North Korea and the United States — the biggest foreign policy crisis Trump has faced in his six-month-old presidency — contributed to a weak open for U.S. stocks.
The benchmark S&P 500 stock index dropped 0.75 percent in the first hour of trade. The index has had just two days so far this year where it has closed with losses of more than 1 percent.
As announced by North Korea, which added detail to a plan first unveiled on Wednesday, the planned path of the missiles would cross some of the world’s busiest sea and air traffic routes.
Guam, a tropical island more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. air base, Navy installation that includes a submarine squadron and Coast Guard group.
“The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA (Korean People’s Army) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,” the North Korean report said. “They will fly 3,356.7 km (2,085.8 miles) for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam.”
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” KCNA said of Trump. While North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its allies, the report was unusual in its detail. It follows two successful tests of an intercontinental missile by the isolated state in July and a series of other missile tests.
“Even if the North’s missiles do not hit the ocean territory of Guam, the U.S. will not tolerate such a provocation simply because it is a severe threat to its national security,” said Cha Do-hyeogn, visiting researcher at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Japan’s Keio University, said before the latest KCNA report that Pyongyang may be issuing a warning or advance notice of changes to its missile testing programme rather than threatening an attack.
“I believe this is a message saying they plan to move missile tests from the Sea of Japan to areas around Guam,” he told Reuters. “By making this advance notice, they are also sending a tacit message that what they are going to do is not an actual attack.” Major airlines that fly over the region said they had so far made no plans to change flight paths.