North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un vowed his nation would “demonstrate its mettle to the U.S.” and never put its weapons programs up for negotiations a day after test-launching its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The hard line suggests more tests are being prepared as the country tries to perfect a nuclear missile capable of striking anywhere in the United States.
Tuesday’s ICBM launch, confirmed later by U.S. and South Korean officials, is a milestone in Pyongyang’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear-armed missiles. The North isn’t there yet — some analysts suggest it will take several more years to perfect such an arsenal, and many more tests — but a successful launch of an ICBM has long been seen as a red line, after which it would only be a matter of time — if the country isn’t stopped.
U.S. and South Korean forces, in response to Tuesday’s launch, engineered a show of force for Pyongyang, with soldiers from the allies firing “deep strike” precision missiles into South Korean territorial waters. South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered the drills arranged with the United States to show “North Korea our firm combined missile response posture,” his office said.
The uproar only seemed to inspire the North, whose propaganda machine rarely fails to aggrandize its leader and its military or to thumb its nose at rivals Seoul and Washington.
A report in its state media Wednesday described leader Kim as “feasting his eyes” on the ICBM, which was said to be capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, before its launch. “With a broad smile on his face,” Kim urged his scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees,” an apparent reference to continuing the stream of nuclear and missile tests Kim has ordered since taking power in late 2011.
The North was also pleased that its test came as Americans celebrated Independence Day. Kim, the state media report said, told “scientists and technicians that the U.S. would be displeased to witness the DPRK’s strategic option as it was given a ‘package of gifts’ incurring its disfavor by the DPRK on its ‘Independence Day.'” The North has a history of conducting weapons test on or around July 4.