The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, with two scientists — Ri Hong-sop, second from left, and Hong Sung-mu, right — in Pyongyang in September. CreditKorean Central News Agency
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile early Wednesday for the first time in four months, defying President Trump’s warnings to halt its weapons program and his decision to once again list the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Mr. Trump’s reaction to the launch was more muted than in the past, when he lobbed insults at the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un and threatened “fire and fury” that would “totally destroy” the North.
“We will take care of it,” he told reporters in Washington. “It is a situation that we will handle.”
The missile took off from around Pyongsong, a town northeast of Pyongyang, the capital, at 3:17 a.m., and it flew east for about 53 minutes before landing off the north of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, nearly 600 miles from the launch site.
The missile was fired high into the air, reaching a maximum altitude of around 2,800 miles, in an arc similar to the North’s two previous intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, which were launched in July.
The distance traveled appeared to be significantly greater than that of the two previous ICBMs, which flew for 37 minutes on July 4 and for 47 minutes on July 28.
David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the missile performed better than the two fired in July, with a potential range of more than 8,000 miles, able to reach Washington or any other part of the continental United States.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Dr. Wright said of the test flight. “This is building on what they’ve done before. It’s muscle-flexing to show the U.S. that they’re going to continue to make progress.”
However, Dr. Wright noted that in an effort to increase the vehicle’s range, the North Koreans might have fitted it with a mock payload that weighed little or next to nothing. So the distance traveled, while impressive, does not necessarily translate into a working intercontinental ballistic missile, much less one that could deliver a thermonuclear warhead.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said the new launch appeared to be the “most robust” ICBM test yet by the North Korea.
“Early calculations suggest that it could reach the East Coast of the United States,” he said. “However, that doesn’t take into account the payload mass, which could limit the range.”