North Korea Claims Close to Testing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday that the isolated nuclear-capable country was in the last stage of preparing an ICBM rocket test.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, Pyongyang, Feb. 23, 2015.
Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday that the isolated nuclear-capable country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

"Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing and ICBM rocket test launch preparation is in its last stage," Kim said during a televised New Year's Day speech.

North Korea tested ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate during 2016, although some experts have said it is years away from developing an ICBM fitted with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the United States.

The country has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The sanctions were tightened last month after Pyongyang conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test on September 9.

In February, North Korea launched a satellite into space, which was widely seen as a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.

A senior U.S. military official said last month that North Korea appears able to mount a miniaturised nuclear warhead on a missile but is still struggling with missile re-entry technology necessary for longer range strikes.

During the speech, Kim also denounced the U.S. and South Korean President Park Geun-hye for the conflict in Korean peninsula.

"We have to put an end to the invasion and interference of the U.S. and foreign countries for conquering the Asia-pacific through South Korea, and we must smash activities of slavish, anti-unification traitors like Park Geun-hye, who is unable to distinguish the real enemy and finding way to survive in the confrontation of the same race," Kim added.

North Korea gets particularly upset about the annual U.S.-South Korea drills, which it says are preparations for an invasion.

The U.S. and South Korea remain technically at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce instead of a peace agreement.