Seoul: North Korea launched another long-range ballistic missile on Monday with a potential capability of striking the United States, Seoul and Tokyo officials said, extending a record-breaking number of weapons tests this year that have been condemned by the West.
The firing followed the test of a shorter range missile on Sunday night, with the back-to-back launches coming immediately in the wake of another bout of fearsome rhetoric between North Korea and the US-South Korean allies.
South Korea's military said it had detected the launch of a long-range ballistic missile from the Pyongyang area on Monday that flew 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) before splashing down in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
The South reported the missile flew up rather than across, a method Pyongyang has previously said it employs in some weapons tests to avoid flying over neighbouring countries.
Japan's defence ministry said it was an ICBM-class missile with a potential range covering all of the United States.
"The ICBM-class ballistic missile launched this time, if calculated based on the trajectory, depending on weight of warhead, could have a flying range of over 15,000 kilometres (9,320 miles)," said Shingo Miyake, parliamentary vice-minister of defence.
"In which case the whole of the US territory would be within the range."
The United Nations Security Council has adopted many resolutions calling on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since it first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described Monday's launch as a "threat to peace and stability", and said it violated UN Security Council resolutions.
The US State Department released a statement condemning the test.
North Korea has previously test-fired four ICBMS this year. The last time was in July, when it launched its solid-fuel Hwasong-18.
The Hwasong-18, which was first test-fired in April, is North Korea's first ICBM to use solid fuel, which makes it easier to transport and faster to launch than liquid-fuelled versions.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson said they were analysing whether Monday's launch was a solid-fuelled ICBM.
The United States and South Korea on Friday held their second session of the Nuclear Consultative Group in Washington, where they discussed nuclear deterrence in the event of conflict with the North.
On Saturday they warned that any nuclear attack from Pyongyang on the United States and South Korea would result in the end of the North Korean regime.
A spokesperson for North Korea's defence ministry on Sunday slammed the allies' plans to expand annual joint military exercise next year to include a nuclear operation drill.
"This is an open declaration on nuclear confrontation to make the use of nuclear weapons against the DPRK a fait accompli," said a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, using the official acronym for North Korea.
"Any attempt to use armed forces against the DPRK will face a preemptive and deadly counteraction," it added.
The North's launch of its military spy satellite launch last month further damaged ties. The portrayed it as a major breakthrough, claiming it was providing images of US and South Korean military sites.
That launch fractured a military agreement between the Koreas established to de-escalate tensions on the peninsula.
Following the spy satellite launch, both sides ramped up security along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating them.
"If North Korea does something reckless that destroys peace, all that awaits them is a hell of destruction," South Korea's Defence Minister Shin Won-sik warned in a meeting with top military commanders last week.
Shin has recently made unusually fiery remarks and has threatened lethal missile strikes on "the heart and head" of Pyongyang in the event of a war.
North Korea last year declared itself an "irreversible" nuclear power and has repeatedly said it will never give up its nuclear programme, which the regime views as essential for its survival.