North Korea is ready to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile "at any time, at any place," according to a senior regime official speaking exclusively to NBC News.
If such a launch was successfully carried out, it would be a major step toward Pyongyang's goal of targeting the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-armed weapon.
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The comments were made by Choe Kang Il, deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, and highlight international concerns that the Kim Jong Un regime is more technologically advanced than previously thought.
Choe rejected the suggestion that any test launch would be provocative.
"Our measures to bolster our nuclear arsenal are all defensive in nature — to defend our sovereignty and to cope with the persistent nuclear blackmail and threats by the United States against our country," he said.
North Korea has conducted a total of five nuclear tests, including two last year, but the country has never successfully launched an ICBM.
The country regularly threatens nuclear attacks against the United States but, until 2016, analysts had thought the country was a long way from developing missile technology that would make them capable of doing so.