North Korea tests suspected intercontinental missile; US slams move
A U-2S Dragon Lady spy plane of the US Air Force lands at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, after completing a reconnaissance mission. North Korea fired what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) toward the East Sea earlier in the day. -/YNA/dpa
A U-2S Dragon Lady spy plane of the US Air Force lands at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, after completing a reconnaissance mission. North Korea fired what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) toward the East Sea earlier in the day. -/YNA/dpa

North Korea has tested a suspected intercontinental missile, according to Japanese officials and the South Korean military, in a move strongly condemned by the United States.

The missiles flew in the direction of the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, the South Korean military's general staff said on Thursday.

Japanese Deputy Defence Minister Makoto Oniki said the missile had reached an altitude of up to 6,000 kilometres after launching towards the sea, according to the Kyodo news agency. He said the missile may have been a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile.

Seoul also believes its neighbour fired a long-range missile, the South Korean military said.

The test was clearly a breach by North Korea of its self-imposed test ban on long-range missiles, President Moon Jae In told an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, according to his office. Moon condemned North Korea's action.

Washington issued a strong condemnation of the test.

"This launch is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"This action demonstrates that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] continues to prioritize its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people," she added.

The South Korean military initially spoke of at least one unidentified projectile fired by North Korea towards the open sea.

UN resolutions prohibit North Korea from testing any ballistic missiles. These are generally surface-to-surface missiles which, depending on their design, can also be armed with one or more nuclear warheads.

For years, Pyongyang has been advancing on the development of such missiles, leading to tough international sanctions.

In recent months, North Korea has conducted several weapons tests, including ballistic missiles.

The US and South Korea assume that the self-declared nuclear power also undertook tests in late February and early March in connection with Pyongyang's work on a new type of intercontinental missile system.

North Korea spoke of important tests to develop an Earth observation satellite.

Experts have expected that the country could soon launch a space rocket. Space rockets and military long-range missiles are largely based on the same technology.