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HONG KONG — North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017, its neighbors said Thursday, in a major escalation of tensions over its weapons program.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the missile was believed to be a new kind of ICBM, and condemned the test as an “unforgivable outrage.”

“These series of actions taken by North Korea threaten the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community, and they are absolutely unacceptable,” he said from Brussels, where he landed Thursday to meet with world leaders on the crisis in Ukraine.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff also said the missile appeared to be an ICBM, Reuters reported.

The dramatic move, which officials in the United States had warned might be coming, is the latest in a series of weapons tests that experts say are meant to force the international community to recognize Kim Jong Un’s regime as a nuclear power and lift sanctions that have devastated the country’s economy.

The launch ended a self-imposed moratorium on testing ICBMs and nuclear weapons that North Korea declared in 2018 ahead of diplomatic talks with former President Donald Trump that ultimately collapsed. The country is barred from such tests under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki condemned the test and said the Biden administration was assessing the situation in close coordination with allies.

“This action demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” she said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We urge all countries to hold the DPRK accountable for such violations and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations.”

Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, said the missile was launched east from North Korea’s western coast. He said it landed at 3:44 p.m. local time (2:44 a.m. ET) in the sea about 90 miles west of Oshima Peninsula on northern Hokkaido Island, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Matsuno said the missile was estimated to have been in the air for 71 minutes, flew a distance of 680 miles and reached a maximum altitude of more than 3,725 miles.

That compares with 53 minutes, a distance of 590 miles and an altitude of about 2,780 miles when North Korea last tested an ICBM in November 2017. Pyongyang said that missile, the Hwasong-15, could potentially reach the continental United States.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration had warned that North Korea was secretly testing elements of a new ICBM system ahead of a potential full-range launch. It imposed new sanctions over two missile tests on Feb. 27 and March 5 that it said involved the Hwasong-17, North Korea’s largest ICBM system. The Hwasong-17 first appeared at a military parade in October 2020, but had never been tested before.

North Korean state media quoted leader Kim Jong Un as saying that the two tests were part of a plan to launch reconnaissance satellites to monitor military action by the U.S. and its allies.

North Korea has ramped up testing of shorter-range missiles in recent months, especially since the start of the year.

The tests have included an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, as well as a hypersonic missile and a ballistic missile fired from a submarine. The country hinted in January that tests of nuclear weapons or long-range ballistic missiles might be next.

Source: This post first appeared on NBC News

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