THAAD radar detected N. Korea's missile launch: defense chief

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For its part, the US Treasury explained that it is considering all of its available tools to deny North Korea access to the worldwide financial system to rein in its nuclear weapons and missile development programs.

In a unanimous statement backed by China, the council stressed the importance of North Korea 'immediately showing honest commitment to de-nuclearisation through concrete action'.

North Korea, which has defied calls to rein in its weapons program - even from its lone major ally China, has been working on a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead capable of striking the United States mainland. Since then, it has progressively strengthened the measures in response to the pariah state's five nuclear tests and two long-range rocket launches. But leader Kim Jong Un has promised a sixth nuclear test, warning that his country's weapons could strike the U.S. mainland.

Experts are viewing the launch as an escalation in Pyongyang's nuclear program, and an indication the North has made major advances in its quest to develop a ballistic missile capable of reaching the US.

Aside from Pyongyang's space launches, Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the U.S. told AFP: "This is the longest-range missile North Korea has ever tested".

"The launch of such ballistic missiles is a serious threat to our country", Abe said, considering the action a grave threat to the region and a violation of United Nations resolutions on North Korea's arms programs.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a Hwasong-12 in an undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Monday.

His remarks are seen as hinting at another nuclear explosion or a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) under development.

- "Reckless provocation" - ========================== Last week South Korea elected a new president, Moon Jae-In, who advocates reconciliation with Pyongyang and said at his inauguration that he was willing "in the right circumstances" to visit the North to ease tensions.

Asked if North Korea's missile program was developing faster than the South had expected, he said: "Yes".

There's also skepticism about North Korea's claims about its re-entry technology, which is needed to return a warhead to the atmosphere from space so it can hit its intended target.

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