(ATTN: UPDATES with White House statement in paras 10-11; CHANGES headline)
By Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) toward the East Sea on Thursday, South Korea's military said, a move sharply escalating tensions in the region.
Pyongyang's show of force, the 12th this year, means an end to its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and a long-range missile testing.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that it detected the launch from the Sunan airfield in Pyongyang at 2:34 p.m. and the missile flew some 1,080 kilometers at a top altitude of over 6,200 km.
The North appears to have launched the missile at a lofted angle, the JCS said. Another military official said it flew for at least 70 minutes.
"For other specifics on the missile, the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
Shortly after the launch, JCS Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, held a virtual meeting and reaffirmed the allies' "firm" defense posture, the JCS added.
In the demonstration of its own firepower and combat readiness, the South's military soon conducted a joint live-fire exercise involving some of its key missiles -- a Hyunmoo-2 ground-to-ground missile and one Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile as well as a Haesung-II ship-to-ground missile and two JDAM air-to-surface missiles -- according to the JCS.
"It has been confirmed that in case of North Korea's missile launch, (we) have the ability and posture to precisely strike the origin of the missile launch and command and support facilities at any time," it stated.
The JCS condemned the North's latest launch, calling it a serious challenge to the South Korean military as well as the Seoul-Washington alliance.
The White House strongly condemned the missile launch, calling on Pyongyang to "immediately cease its destabilizing actions."
"This launch is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region," press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. "The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions."
In a separate statement, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command urged the North to refrain from further "destabilizing" actions.
"The United States remains prepared to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies," the command said in a press release. "The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan remains ironclad." ROK stands for South Korea's official name, Republic of Korea.
The Pyongyang airfield is where the North is presumed to have tested the Hwasong-17 ICBM on Feb. 27 and March 5.
Dubbed a "monster" missile for its size, the new ICBM is thought to carry multiple warheads and have a range exceeding 13,000 km.
The North's latest launch came four days after it fired four artillery shots into the Yellow Sea, apparently using multiple rocket launchers, from Sukchon, north of Pyongyang.
Last week, the North unsuccessfully fired an apparent long-range rocket system.
In January, Pyongyang made a veiled threat to lift its voluntary moratorium on strategic weapons tests that it declared in April 2018 amid nuclear diplomacy with Seoul and Washington.
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