Despite battling a wave of suspected COVID-19 infections, North Korea appears to be preparing for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s first official visit to South Korea, a U.S. official said.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the latest intelligence indicates that North Korea could conduct an ICBM test on Thursday or Friday.
Biden is expected to arrive in South Korea on Friday and hold talks with his South Korean counterpart a few days before his visit to Japan. The White House said last week that Biden was considering moving into a demilitarized zone along the North Korean border.
A weapons test could overshadow Biden’s broader focus on China, trade and other regional issues, and underscore the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament talks, despite his administration’s commitment to breaking the stalemate with practical methods.
This could complicate international efforts to assist Pyongyang as it fights the first confirmed Kovid outbreak.
Biden’s visit to the region as president will be the first and the first summit meeting with South Korean President Eun Sook-eol, who took office on May 10.
Eun has vowed to take a tougher stance against North Korea’s “provocations” and is expected to receive more assurances from Biden that the United States will strengthen its “enhanced resistance” against the North.
Asked about the U.S. assessment of the missile launch, a spokesman for Seoul’s defense ministry said South Korea and U.S. intelligence authorities were monitoring and coordinating such activity and that its military was maintaining a strong readiness.
U.S. officials have warned that North Korea could also test a nuclear weapon in the run-up to the visit, and the State Department said Tuesday that there is no expectation that the Kovid outbreak will delay the resumption of nuclear tests by 2017.
“Even (North Korea) continues to refuse grants … apparently much-needed covid vaccines, they continue to invest heavily in ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs that do nothing to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the North Korean people,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. Said in the briefing.
A new report from the US-based Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) says commercial satellite images show work is underway at the nuclear site, whose underground testing tunnels will be suspended in 2018 after leader Kim Jong Un announced a moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests. Was done. .
He has since said that the country is no longer bound by the moratorium due to a lack of progress in negotiations with the United States. North Korea resumes ICBM testing in March.
“Tunnel No. 3 has been undergoing renovations and preparations for the past three months, and is likely to be nearing completion for the often-anticipated seventh nuclear test,” the CSIS report on the nuclear site said. “Only Kim Jong Un relies on this test.”
North Korea has resumed construction of a long-dormant nuclear reactor that will increase plutonium production by 10 factors for its nuclear weapons, researchers at the US-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) reported last week, citing a satellite. Images.
Analysts say that even if North Korea tests its weapons, South Korea and the United States should provide unconditional support.
North Korea sent a plane to China for medical treatment a few days after confirming its first COVID-19 outbreak, media reported on Tuesday, but Pyongyang has not yet responded to South Korea’s offer of assistance. Washington has said it supports providing aid to North Korea, but has no current plans to supply the vaccine.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)