North Korea said Sunday it conducted the previous day a "surprise" drill of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on a lofted trajectory amid military threats from the United States and South Korea, according to state-run media.

The missile firing Saturday afternoon from Pyongyang International Airport proved the "sure reliability of our powerful physical nuclear deterrent," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched on Feb. 18, 2023, in Pyongyang. (KCNA/Kyodo)

The ICBM likely fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone off its northern territory in the first such test by Pyongyang in three months, according to the Japanese government. The launch has triggered protests and condemnations from Tokyo, Seoul and Washington.

Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticized the United States and South Korea for "destroying the stability of the region" and warned in a statement that Pyongyang will "take corresponding and very powerful and overwhelming counteraction" against every hostile move.

KCNA said the missile flew 989 kilometers for 66 minutes and 55 seconds, reaching a maximum altitude of 5,768.5 km, before accurately hitting a pre-set area in open waters of the Sea of Japan.

The drill was "suddenly organized without previous notice" under an emergency firepower combat standby order and a written order signed by Kim Jong Un, the news agency said.

The exercise involved the First Red Flag Hero Company under the Missile General Bureau, with the company getting an "excellent mark" in the assessment of the launch, it said.

The latest launch came a day after the North denounced a plan by the United States and South Korea to conduct tabletop exercises next Wednesday, as well as another round of joint military drills in March.

Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Saturday the ICBM could potentially travel over 14,000 km and reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland if launched on a normal trajectory.

North Korea last fired the Hwasong-15 missile in 2017. In November last year, it launched the new Hwasong-17 ICBM, which also likely fell into Japan's EEZ.

Hamada said at that time the new missile could potentially travel over 15,000 km.

Meanwhile, Kim Yo Jong, who serves as a senior official of the North's ruling party, also said in the statement that her country still has "no intention to stand face to face" with South Korea, saying, "We tell its fools that our ICBM will not be aimed at Seoul."

South Korea "had better think of the consequences to be entailed by its reckless acts," she warned.

Pyongyang has repeatedly criticized South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, known for his hardline stance on North Korea, since his inauguration last May, rejecting his offer of aid in exchange for the North taking denuclearization steps.

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