North Korea says it can test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at any time from any location set by leader Kim Jong-un, blaming what it calls “hostile United States policy” for its arms development.
Mr Kim said on January 1 that his nuclear-capable country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
“The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere determined by the supreme headquarters of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.
“The US is wholly to blame for pushing the DPRK to have developed ICBM as it has desperately resorted to anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK for decades to encroach upon its sovereignty and vital rights.”
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities and ballistic missile defence programs constituted a “serious threat” to the United States and that it was prepared to shoot down a North Korean missile launch or test.
“We only would shoot them down … if it was threatening, that is if it were coming toward our territory or the territory of our friends and allies,” Mr Carter said.
The United States said last week that North Korea had demonstrated a “qualitative” improvement in its nuclear and missile capabilities after an unprecedented level of tests last year.
US President-elect Donald Trump signalled he will take a tough approach to Mr Kim’s rhetoric in a tweet after the North Korean leader’s New Year comments.
Experts have said North Korea has been testing rocket engines and heat-shields for an ICBM as well as developing the technology to guide a missile after re-entry into the atmosphere after a lift-off.
While Pyongyang is close to a test, it is likely to take some years to perfect the weapon, experts have said.
Once fully developed, a North Korean ICBM could threaten the American continent which is around 9,000 kilometres from North Korea.
ICBMs have a minimum range of 5,500 kilometres but some are designed to travel 10,000 kilometres or further.
A US State Department spokesman said last week that Washington does not believe that North Korea is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile.
North Korea has been under United Nations sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
The sanctions were tightened after Pyongyang conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test on September 9.