North Korea dismissed warnings by U.S. President Donald Trump that it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States and outlined detailed plans on Thursday for a missile strike near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Experts in South Korea said the plans unveiled by the reclusive North ratcheted up risks significantly, since Washington was likely to view any missile aimed at its territory as a provocation, even if launched as a test.
North Korea’s apparently rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland has fueled tensions that erupted into a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang this week, unnerving regional powers and global investors.
World stocks fell for a third day, with shares in Seoul slumping to a seven-week low, after North Korea said it was finalizing plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land 30-40 km (18-25 miles) from Guam, adding detail to a plan first announced on Wednesday.
Guam, a tropical island more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. Navy installation that includes a submarine squadron, a Coast Guard group and an air base.
As announced by North Korea, the planned path of the missiles would cross some of the world’s busiest sea and air traffic routes.
The North Korean army would complete its plans in mid-August, ready for leader Kim Jong Un’s order, state-run KCNA news agency reported, citing General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army.
“The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA (Korean People’s Army) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,” the report said. “They will fly 3,356.7 km (2,085.8 miles) for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam.”
While North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its allies, the report was unusual in its detail. It follows two successful tests of an intercontinental missile by the isolated state in July and a series of other missile tests.
“Even if the North’s missiles do not hit the ocean territory of Guam, the U.S. will not tolerate such a provocation simply because it is a severe threat to its national security,” said Cha Do-hyeogn, visiting researcher at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Japan’s Keio University, said before the latest KCNA report that Pyongyang may be issuing a warning or advance notice of changes to its missile testing program rather than threatening an attack.
“I believe this is a message saying they plan to move missile tests from the Sea of Japan to areas around Guam,” he told Reuters. “By making this advance notice, they are also sending a tacit message that what they are going to do is not an actual attack.”
Major airlines that fly over the region however said they had so far made no plans to change flight paths.