By HYUNG-JIN KIM and FOSTER KLUG
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Tuesday claimed it successfully test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile, a potential game-changing development in what may be the world’s most dangerous nuclear standoff and, if true, a direct rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump’s earlier declaration that such a test “won’t happen!”
The launch appeared to be North Korea’s most successful missile test yet. A U.S. scientist examining the height and distance said the missile could potentially be powerful enough to reach Alaska.
In typically heated rhetoric, North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science said the test of an ICBM — the Hwasong-14 — marked the “final step” in creating a “confident and powerful nuclear state that can strike anywhere on Earth.”
It will be difficult to confirm many details about what happened. North Korea’s weapons program is perhaps the most closely held state secret in one of the world’s most suspicious nations. U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials earlier assessed that the North fired an intermediate-range missile into waters near Japan.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on whether Japan thinks it was an ICBM, and South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it was analyzing whether the North’s statement was accurate.
North Korea has previously launched satellites in what critics said were disguised tests of its long-range missile technology. A test-launch of an ICBM, however, would be a major step in developing nuclear-armed missiles that could reach anywhere in the United States.
The launch sends a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, while also allowing North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program. It came on the eve of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, days after the first face-to-face meeting of the leaders of South Korea and the United States, and ahead of a global summit of the world’s richest economies.
Most outside and North Korean analyses of the missile’s height, distance and time in the air were roughly similar.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials say it flew for about 40 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles), which would be longer and higher than any similar North Korean test previously reported. It also covered a distance of about 930 kilometers (580 miles).
North Korea said the missile…