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US says North Korea rocket was ICBM, warns of UN action

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The US confirmed a rocket launched by North Korea on July 4 was an intercontinental ballistic missile, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling it a "new escalation of the threat" to the US and its allies that would be brought before the United Nations Security Council.

[WASHINGTON] The US confirmed a rocket launched by North Korea on July 4 was an intercontinental ballistic missile, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling it a "new escalation of the threat" to the US and its allies that would be brought before the United Nations Security Council.

"Global action is required to stop a global threat," Mr Tillerson said in a statement.

"Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime."

The Security Council plans a closed session on Wednesday afternoon after US Ambassador Nikki Haley requested an urgent meeting, a spokesman for the US mission said.

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Labelling the missile an ICBM reflects a US assessment that North Korea now may be capable of striking the US - possibly Hawaii or Alaska - though it's believed to be some way from the capability to deliver a nuclear payload to the US mainland.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's actions further escalate tensions over his nuclear ambitions and show how efforts to rein him in - from international sanctions to US and Chinese pressure - have not worked.

The issue is set to dominate this week's Group of 20 summit in Germany, where US President Donald Trump is due to meet with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Mr Trump has already indicated in recent weeks he believes China is not doing enough to curtail its neighbor and ally.

Mr Kim is "firmly determined and committed" to test an ICBM that can hit the US mainland within this year, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Wednesday. It said the ICBM was capable of carrying a newly-developed, large-sized nuclear warhead, and was tested for re-entry capability.

'Package of Gifts'

Estimates have varied on the altitude the missile achieved, though South Korea and Japanese officials have put it around at least the 2,500 kilometre mark. It flew for approximately 40 minutes, or about 930 kilometres.

Mr Kim said the US must be upset with the "package of gifts" he sent for its Independence Day and plans to send more in future, the KCNA report said. He won't put his nuclear and ballistic missiles on the negotiating table unless the US withdraws its nuclear threats.

While China and South Korea favour talks to lower tensions with North Korea, the US insists negotiations can only happen if Mr Kim halts his nuclear programme, while Mr Trump has said military action is one option for dealing with the regime.

South Korea and the US conducted a joint ballistic-missile drill early Wednesday, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

"The launch continues to demonstrate that North Korea poses a threat to the United States and our allies," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a separate statement.

"Together with the Republic of Korea, we conducted a combined exercise to show our precision fire capability."

Mr Trump turned to Twitter on Tuesday after news of the launch. He wrote: "Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!"

In response, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had been "indispensable" in pressuring Mr Kim.

Tensions are rising between Mr Trump and Mr Xi over a broader range of issues. In a call with the US president this week, Mr Xi complained about a "negative" turn in ties.

The US has in recent days announced a US$1.3 billion arms sale to Taiwan, published a report ranking China among the world's worst human-trafficking offenders and called on Beijing to let ailing Noble Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo seek cancer treatment abroad.

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