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SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called the North's launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine "the greatest success," saying his country has full capacity to carry out nuclear attacks, Pyongyang's state media said Thursday.
The North's leader observed the launch of the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) Wednesday, saying it was "the greatest success and victory," according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Kim said the results of the test-fire showed North Korea "joined the front rank of the military powers fully equipped with nuclear attack capability," the KCNA reported.
The South Korean military said the missile flew about 500 kilometers toward Japan, making the longest flight by such a missile for the North.
A military source said the missile, launched at a high angle, could have flown more than 1,000 km if it was fired off at a regular angle, and is seen as an indication of the advances made in the North's missile program.
The KCNA said the test-fire was conducted under a high-angle fire system using a solid fuel engine. It claimed the latest launch proved the reliability and accuracy of its missile program.
On Monday, Seoul and Washington kicked off their annual joint military drill, which Pyongyang has long denounced as a rehearsal for northern invasion.
Tension is running high on the divided peninsula as North Korea threatened on Monday to wage a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on South Korea and the U.S. against their military exercise.
The KCNA said the North's leader stressed the need to put efforts toward mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles and developing means of their delivery in order to cope with nuclear war threats coming from the U.S.
North Korea has insisted that its nuclear weapons development is an act of nuclear deterrence for self-defense in the face of what it claims is Washington's hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
Wednesday's launch marked the sixth time that North Korea has tested its SLBM capabilities after its first attempt in May 2015. It also marked the third SLBM test launch this year.
North Korea's purported success of the SLBM launch could serve as a fresh threat to regional security, as it is difficult to detect ballistic missiles when launched underwater.
North Korea is seeking to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting targets on the U.S. mainland.
If an SLBM is capable of carrying a small nuclear warhead, it can pose a formidable threat, as the North would be able to hit targets theoretically from anywhere and in a blitzkrieg manner, experts said.
Seoul and Washington are skeptical about the North's claim over the success of developing miniaturized nuclear bombs. But military experts said that Pyongyang seems to have made significant progress in making a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a missile.
Since the North's leader took office in late 2011, North Korea has test-fired more than 30 ballistic missiles, including an intermediate-range Musudan missile, which theoretically can fly as far as the U.S. territory of Guam.
The South Korean military had expected North Korea to be able to deploy SLBMs for combat use within two or three years, but experts said that the latest launch could enable the North to move forward its deployment to as early as late this year.
North Korea is banned from developing ballistic missile technology under relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The UNSC slapped its toughest sanctions on the North over its fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in the following month.
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