NORTH Korea has claimed the missile it launched over the weekend was a new type of long-range ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.

Propaganda coming out of Pyongyang should always be considered with caution but, if confirmed, the claim marks another big step forward in the country’s escalating efforts to field a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the mainland of the United States.

Outside experts do not believe the North has achieved that yet, but each new test pushes the country closer to the goal.

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The launch on Sunday was an immediate challenge to South Korea’s new leader, Moon Jae-in, a liberal elected five days earlier who expressed a desire to reach out to North Korea.

North Korea’s push to boost its weapons programme also makes it one of the most urgent foreign policy worries for Donald Trump’s US administration.

The missile flew for half an hour and reached an unusually high altitude before landing in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean, Japanese and US militaries said. Tokyo said the flight pattern could indicate a new type of missile.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency(KCNA) called the missile a “new ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 ... capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead”.

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Leader Kim Jong Un was said to have witnessed the test, above, and “hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they worked hard to achieve a great thing,” according to KCNA.

The launch jeopardises new South Korean president Moon’s willingness to talk to the North, and came as US, Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.

“The president expressed deep regret over the fact that this reckless provocation ... occurred just days after a new government was launched in South Korea,” senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said.

“The president said we are leaving open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but we should deal sternly with a provocation to prevent North Korea from miscalculating. Moon, South Korea’s first liberal leader in nearly a decade, said as he took his oath of office last week that he would be willing to visit the North if the circumstances were right.

The UN Security Council will hold closed consultations about the launch this afternoon. It has adopted six increasingly tougher sanctions resolutions against North Korea.

Trump’s administration has called North Korean ballistic and nuclear efforts unacceptable, but it has swung between threats of military action and offers to talk as it formulates a policy.

Japanese officials said the missile flew for about 30 minutes, travelling about 500 miles and reaching an unusually high altitude of 1240 miles.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said it was launched from near Kusong, in North Phyongan province. The US Pacific command said “the flight is not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile,” a technology the North is believed to have tested clandestinely by launching rockets to put satellites in orbit.

David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the missile could have a range of 2800 miles if flown on a standard, instead of lofted, trajectory – considerably further than Pyongyang’s current missiles.

He said Sunday’s launch, the seventh such firing by North Korea this year, may have been of a new mobile, two-stage liquid-fuelled missile North Korea displayed at a huge military parade a month ago.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the launch was “absolutely unacceptable” and that Japan would respond resolutely. The White House took note of the missile landing close to Russia’s Pacific coast and said that North Korea has been “a flagrant menace for far too long”.

North Korea’s ambassador to China said the missile test was part of the country’s efforts to develop ways to defend itself against aggression and hostility abroad.

Ji Jae Ryong told reporters at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing that Pyongyang would continue to conduct launches in the future, as long as the country’s supreme leader deemed necessary.

Ji also repeated an assertion by North Korean officials that Pyongyang has successfully foiled a CIA-backed plot to kill leader Kim Jong Un last month with a biochemical poison.