North might be able to hit most of mainland U.S.

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North might be able to hit most of mainland U.S.

North Korea’s claim that it can target anywhere in the United States with its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is no longer bluster, U.S. intelligence officials suggested Monday.

Two officials who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said North Korea’s latest ICBM test, carried out last Friday night, has shown that the regime may be able to reach most of the continental United States.

The Pentagon reportedly refused to comment on the matter, but acknowledged that the missile represented the longest flight of any North Korean missile tested so far. The United States has yet to officially confirm that North Korea’s ICBM can reach its mainland, though several experts projected after the first ICBM test, held on July 4, that Pyongyang was now able to target as far as Alaska.

One missile defense expert, Michael Elleman, thinks Pyongyang still has a long way to go. Elleman relayed his thoughts on the North Korean affairs website 38 North, writing on Monday that his conclusion was based on video evidence from NHK, a Japanese TV station that has a weather camera looking towards the direction where the latest North Korean ICBM’s re-entry vehicle crashed into the sea.

“The RV [re-entry vehicle] appears to be shedding small radiant objects and is trailed by an incandescent vapor,” wrote Elleman, adding, “At an altitude of 3 to 4 kilometers [1.9 to 2.5 miles], the RV then dims and quickly disappears.”

This occurs before the RV passes behind the mountain range and is obscured from the camera’s view, he said, which indicates that the vehicle disintegrated about the time it experienced maximum stressing loads.

In a different analysis, Strategic Sentinel, a geostrategic consulting agency based in Virginia, claimed Sunday that it appears North Korea was trying to target Japanese territorial waters when it carried out its previous ICBM test on July 4.

That theory was based on a propaganda photo released by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency earlier this month, which features Kim Jong-un watching the launch site with a pair of binoculars from an unspecified vantage point, the leader’s elbows perched on a wooden table that has a map on it.

Strategic Sentinel said it enhanced the photo to make the trajectory line more apparent and discovered that the splash-down point was just off Okushiri Island, west of Hokkaido.

“That area could have potentially put the missile inside Japan’s territorial waters, the area of sovereign waters 12 nautical miles off any country,” the agency wrote, adding, “This area is directly controlled under the nation’s laws and includes airspace above and the seabed below.”

Never has a North Korean missile fell that near to Japanese territory. That day, the missile actually landed short of the pictured target area, into waters farther east of Hokkaido in the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The report, to which two 38 North experts contributed, explained that North Korea either failed to reach its target, made a last-minute decision not to get too close to Japan, or released the photo on purpose to send a strong warning to Tokyo. On his response to North Korea’s latest ICBM test, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Monday at a cabinet meeting in the White House that it will be “handled” - but neglected to explain how. “We’ll handle North Korea,” he said, according to pool reports. “It will be handled. We will handle everything.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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