(ATTN: UPDATES with Tillerson statement)
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, July 4 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed Tuesday that North Korea's latest missile launch was an intercontinental ballistic missile test, as he promised to take tougher measures to hold Pyongyang accountable and vowed never to accept the North as a nuclear power.
"The United States strongly condemns North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region and the world," Tillerson said in a statement.
The assessment means that the North moved much closer to perfecting capabilities to strike the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon. Missile experts said the latest test showed that it would take only a year or two for the North to have an operational ICBM capable of striking targets on the U.S. West Coast.
The confirmation came after U.S. national security, military and diplomatic officials held a series of meetings to assess the launch. The conclusion runs counter to an initial assessment by the U.S. Pacific Command that it was an intermediate-range missile.
"We intend to bring North Korea's provocative action before the U.N. Security Council and enact stronger measures to hold the DPRK accountable," Tillerson said.
"The United States seeks only the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the end of threatening actions by North Korea. As we, along with others, have made clear, we will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea," he said.
Tillerson urged countries around the world to sincerely carry out U.N. sanctions.
"Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits or fails to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime. All nations should publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to their pursuit of nuclear weapons," he said.
President Donald Trump and his national security team are continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our allies and partners, Tillerson said.
After launching a ballistic missile earlier Tuesday, the North claimed it succeeded in its first ICBM test, with the missile soaring as high as about 2,800 kilometers before landing at an East Sea target 930 kilometers away.
Officials in South Korea and Japan gave similar altitude and distance figures, raising the possibility that the North's claims could be true, though the U.S. Pacific Command initially identified the North's missile as an intermediate-range class.
Trump has lamented the provocation in a Twitter posting late Monday.
"North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea ... and Japan will put up with this much longer," Trump tweeted. "Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!"
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