NK may test ICBM system soon


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits the Sohae satellite launch site in Cholsan, North Pyongan province, in this undated photo released on Friday. (KCNA-Yonhap)

South Korean authorities believe North Korea could conduct an intercontinental ballistic missile system test as early as this week, which would seriously increase tensions on the Korean peninsula as the presidential transition begins in Seoul.

Seoul and Washington have detected signs of an impending ICBM test and have been keeping tabs on developments, sources here say.

National Security Adviser Suh Hoon told President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol on Saturday that a test launch was imminent and it would not be surprising if the North fired it on Monday, according to a Chosun Ilbo report released Monday. , citing an unnamed official. in the office of the president-elect.

An official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said on Monday it was difficult to decide when the test will take place, but stressed that authorities were closely monitoring the situation and maintaining a strong preparedness posture.

Weather conditions and other factors are likely to decide the timing of the possible launch from Pyongyang.

In a rare joint announcement, Seoul and Washington said last week that the North’s two recent missile launches on February 27 and March 5 – which Pyongyang said were for a reconnaissance satellite – were to test a new ICBM system.

The new missile system, known as Hwasong-17, was first unveiled at a military parade in October 2020, with some analysts calling it a “monster” for its size.

While recent launches have only tested parts of the missile disguised as a satellite, the Pentagon said the North may conduct a “full-range” ICBM test in the future.

Such a test would run counter to Pyongyang’s self-imposed four-year moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. Amid stalled nuclear talks with the United States, the North threatened in January to no longer observe the moratorium. The North last tested an ICBM, the Hwasong-15, in 2017, which was assessed as capable of reaching the American mainland.

Meanwhile, US special envoy to North Korea Sung Kim has called on Beijing to join Washington in publicly condemning the North’s recent missile launches, according to the State Department on Sunday.

The call came during a phone conversation between Kim and his Chinese counterpart Liu Xiaoming on Thursday, the day Washington revealed its intelligence that the North had recently tested a new ICBM system.

During their conversation, Kim told Liu he was concerned that the recent launches demonstrate the North’s “determination to advance its illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs and to pursue a path more and more progressive.

Kim also encouraged China to urge the North to “stop its destabilizing activity and resume dialogue.”

The recent escalation of tension in the North comes as South Korea elected Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party as its new president. Yoon is expected to take a hawkish stance on Pyongyang and has raised the possibility of carrying out a preemptive strike on the North if a nuclear attack is imminent.

The North also appears to be repairing the underground tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which it dismantled several years ago, in a sign that the regime may resume nuclear testing.

The Unification Ministry, which is in charge of inter-Korean affairs, on Monday urged the North to immediately cease actions that “go against peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and are of no benefit to the development of inter-Korean relations” and a return to dialogue, according to its spokesperson Lee Jong-joo.

Meanwhile, top nuclear envoys from Seoul, Washington and Tokyo also spoke by phone on Monday, condemning the spate of ballistic missile strikes from the North as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, the ministry said. Foreign Affairs in a press release.

The three countries have urged the North to cease activities that are raising tension on the peninsula and resume dialogue as soon as possible.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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