SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea said Friday it fired an intercontinental ballistic missile to "strike fear into the enemies" as South Korea and Japan agreed at a summit to work closely on regional security with the United States and staged military exercises around the region.
The missile, launched Thursday from North Korea's main airport as leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter smiled from afar, overshadowed a summit held hours later between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida.
With four missile displays in about a week, North Korea has ratcheted up its tit-for-tat response to ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills that are the biggest of their kind in years.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Kim supervised the test-firing of the Hwasong-17 missile, which blasted off from a launch vehicle parked on an airport runway. Kim stressed the need to "strike fear into the enemies" over what it called the "open hostility" shown to the North by the U.S.-South Korea exercises.
Launched at a high angle to avoid the territory of North Korea's neighbors, the missile reached a maximum altitude of 3,756 miles and traveled 621 miles before landing in waters off the country's eastern coast, KCNA reported.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries assessed the flight similarly, indicating the U.S. mainland is within the missile's range. It remains unclear whether North Korea has developed nuclear bombs small enough to fit on its long-range rockets or the technology to ensure its warheads survive atmospheric reentry when fired at a normal trajectory.
KCNA stated the ICBM launch sends a "stronger warning" to North Korea's rivals who are escalating tensions with their "frantic, provocative and aggressive large-scale war drills." The test also was designed to confirm the reliability of the weapons system, reports state.
Kim said it's crucial for North Korea's nuclear missile forces to maintain readiness to counterattack rivals with "overwhelming offensive measures anytime" and make them realize their persistent and expanded military actions will "bring an irreversible, grave threat to them," KCNA said.
Lee Hyojung, spokesperson of South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it's deeply regrettable that the North continues to use the U.S.-South Korean military drills as an excuse to stage provocative military demonstrations.
"It's clear that North Korea's reckless nuclear and missile development is the cause of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula," she said, urging Pyongyang to return to dialogue.
Speaking Thursday at a lecture in Singapore, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino said North Korea's ramped-up weapons development, underscored by the dozens of missiles it test-fired last year, poses an increasing threat to South Korea and Japan and the country has also "developed the capabilities to threaten the United States as well."
North Korea has long portrayed U.S.-South Korean military drills as rehearsals for an invasion, although the allies describe those exercises as defensive.
Thursday's launch was North Korea's second of an ICBM this year.