SEOUL — North Korea said Oct. 9 it possessed rockets capable of striking the U.S. mainland as it slammed a new U.S.-South Korean deal to extend the range of the South’s missile systems.
A National Defense Commission spokesman cited by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also said Pyongyang would retaliate “in kind” to any U.S. or South Korean nuclear or missile attack.
The warnings came two days after South Korea announced an agreement with the United States to almost triple the range of its missiles to cover the whole of North Korea.
The spokesman said the North’s military, including “strategic rocket forces,” had a “scope of strike” that not only covered U.S. and South Korean bases in South Korea, “but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland”.
South Korean analysts largely dismissed the claim as military bluster, saying there was no evidence the North had obtained a working inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) since a failed rocket launch in April.
North Korea is known to have an ICBM in development — the Taepodong-2 — but it has never been tested successfully.
Pyongyang said April’s failed rocket launch was a bid to put a satellite into orbit.
The United States and United Nations insisted it was a disguised ballistic missile test using a three-stage variant of the Taepodong-2.
Days after April’s failure, North Korea raised eyebrows by displaying what appeared to be a new set of ICBMs at a military parade to mark the 100th birthday of the North’s late founder Kim Il-Sung.
But Western military analysts and U.N. sanctions experts concluded that the display models were simply mock-ups.
“There is no evidence that North Korea has succeeded in tests of a missile with a range long enough to hit the U.S. mainland,” said Yun Duk-Min, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
Yun suggested the claim was made to strengthen the North’s reaction to the new U.S.-South Korea missile deal and boost military morale under new leader Kim Jong-Un.
The new agreement with the United States — announced on Oct. 7 — allows the South to deploy missiles with a range of 800 kilometers (500 miles), up from the current limit of 300 kilometers.
The extension not only brings the whole of North Korea within reach of Seoul’s rockets, but also parts of China and Japan.
The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea and guarantees a nuclear “umbrella” in case of any atomic attack. In return, Seoul accepts limits on its missile capabilities.
The North’s National Defense Commission spokesman said the missile deal was “another conspiracy of the master and the stooge to push the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the extreme ... and ignite a war.”
He also stressed the desire of the North Korean army and people to “feel the real taste of a war.”
Baek Seung-Joo, at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses, said Sunday’s missile announcement had clearly come as a “shock” to Pyongyang.
“It means the South would be able to mount pre-emptive, surgical strikes on any of the nine North Korean missile bases if necessary.”