TOKYO - North Korea appears to have launched another intercontinental ballistic missile, the Pentagon said Tuesday, with experts calculating that Washington is now technically within Kim Jong Un's reach.
The launch, the first in more than two months, is a sign that the North Korean leader's regime is pressing ahead with its stated goal of being able to strike the United States mainland.
"We will take care of it," President Trump told reporters at the White House. It is a "situation we will handle."
The missile traveled 620 miles and reached a height of about 2,800 miles before landing off the coast of Japan early Wednesday local time, flying for 54 minutes. This suggested it had been fired almost straight up - on a "lofted trajectory" similar to North Korea's two previous ICBM tests.
If it had been flown on a standard trajectory designed to maximize its reach, this missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles, said David Wright, codirector of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"This is significantly longer than North Korea's previous long-range tests, which flew on lofted trajectories for 37 minutes and 47 minutes," Wright said. "Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C."
The U.S. capital is 6,850 miles from Pyongyang.
Although it may be cold comfort, it is still unlikely that North Korea is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland.
Scientists do not know the weight of the payload the missile carried, but given the increase in range, it seems likely that it carried a very light mock warhead, Wright said.
"If true, that means it would not be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier," he said in a blog post.
The Pentagon said the missile did indeed appear to be an ICBM.
"Initial assessment indicates that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile," a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Robert Manning, said of the launch.
The South Korean and Japanese governments both convened emergency national security council meetings, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said such launches "cannot be tolerated."
In Washington, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile was fired "higher, frankly, than any previous shots" that North Korea has taken.
He said Kim's continued effort to develop nuclear weapons "endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly he United States."
The missile was launched just before 3 a.m. Wednesday local time from the western part of North Korea.
Japan's Defense Ministry said it landed in waters inside Japan's exclusive economic zone, off the coast of Aomori prefecture. The coast guard told ships to watch for falling debris, and the Japanese government condemned the launch.
South Korea's military conducted a "precision strike" missile launch exercise in response, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Although it was the first North Korean missile launch in more than two months, there had been signs that the North was making preparations. The Japanese government had detected radio signals suggesting that North Korea might be preparing for a ballistic missile launch, Kyodo News reported Monday, citing government sources.
Pyongyang has been working to fit a nuclear warhead to a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, a weapon it says it needs to protect itself from a "hostile" Washington. It has made rapid progress this year, firing two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, the second of which was technically capable of reaching as far as Denver or Chicago, or possibly even New York.
A senior South Korean official said Tuesday that North Korea could announce next year that it has completed its nuclear weapons program.
"North Korea has been developing its nuclear weapons at a faster-than-expected pace. We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a nuclear force within one year," Cho Myoung-gyon, the unification minister, who is in charge of the South's relations with the North, told foreign reporters in Seoul.
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations late last month, Joseph Yun, the State Department's special representative for North Korea policy, said that if North Korea went 60 days without testing a missile or a nuclear weapon, it could be a sign that Pyongyang was open to dialogue.