Just as President Joe Biden is touring Asia, North Korea appears to be preparing for a possible intercontinental ballistic missile test in the next 48 to 96 hours, according to a U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence assessment.
“We’re now looking at things we’ve noticed in the past for a launch,” the official said. The launch site is located near Pyongyang under satellite observation. Officers will not give details of the current figure, but typically, intelligence analysts look for signs of scaffolding or other launcher equipment, fuel, vehicles and personnel.
Biden is due to travel to South Korea on Thursday, and will meet with South Korean President Eun Suu Kyi on Sunday before visiting Japan, where he is scheduled to meet with leaders of Japan, Australia and India.
North Korea has conducted several ballistic missile tests this year, and U.S. military and intelligence agencies have assessed that Pyongyang is preparing for its first underground nuclear test in nearly five years.
The United States now believes that the May 4 launch of a North Korean missile was a failed ICBM that exploded shortly after launch.
The United States further assessed that two new ballistic missile tests on February 26 and March 4 involved a new ICBM being developed by North Korea. According to the Pentagon, the missile was first shown at a Korean Workers’ Party parade on October 10, 2020. The tests were conducted as an assessment earlier this year and did not attempt to demonstrate the range of ICBM. An examination of the range of the missile may come later.
Since the results were released in March, the Pentagon has stepped up surveillance activity in the Yellow Sea, as well as “enhanced preparedness” for US missile defenses in the region.
CNN reported earlier this month that U.S. military and intelligence agencies have assessed that North Korea may be ready to resume underground nuclear tests.
That assessment concludes that Kim Jong Un’s government is preparing for the Pungi-ri nuclear test site and may be ready to conduct a test later in the month. Signs of personnel and vehicle activity at the site have been seen through satellite imagery, but officials are unaware that the government has placed nuclear material in one of the underground tunnels at the test site, which the United States is closely monitoring.
If North Korea conducts a test, it will be the country’s seventh underground nuclear test and the first since 2017.
The only recent example of a visit to the region by Biden this week where a U.S. president traveled to Asia under the threat of a nuclear test: Pyongyang was preparing for a test in 2014 when then-President Barack Obama visited South Korea, and the country was forced to leave Asia by Obama and other leaders in 2016. Immediately conducted an experiment.