With North Korea offering an olive branch to South Korea by proposing to hold talks over sending a delegate to the PyeongChang Olympics, speculation has emerged that North Korea is preparing for another intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
According to the US broadcaster CBS on Tuesday, North Korea appears to be in the early stages of an ICBM launch, with missile activity spotted at the same location north of Pyongyang where North Korea test-fired the ICBM-class ballistic missile Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29.
Citing anonymous military officials, NBC News reported that North Korea’s first missile launch of 2018 is possible “in the coming days.” One official said that the launch could happen midweek, while another official described the timeline as the “short-term.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed the report Wednesday, saying there was no immediate sign of another missile launch -- although the test could take place whenever North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un decides.
|North Korea test-fires the Hwasong-15 ballistic missile on Nov. 29, 2017. Yonhap|
The report came amid high expectations for a thaw in inter-Korean relations in the run-up to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, as North Korea on Wednesday decided to reopen a suspended inter-Korean communication channel at the truce village of Panmunjom.
The South Korean government has made a proposal to North Korea that it is willing to postpone its annual joint military drills with the US until after the Winter Olympics and the Paralympics on the condition that North Korea suspends its missile and nuclear tests.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the US government was hearing reports about North Korea’s potential launch, according to Reuters, though she gave no details of the missile test preparations.
“I hope that doesn’t happen. But if it does, we must bring even tougher measures to bear against the North Korean regime,” Haley said.
The development came a day after Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address, in which he mixed a conciliatory message toward South Korea -- expressing his willingness to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics -- with nuclear threats against the US.
In his nationally televised New Year’s speech, the young leader said his nuclear force was complete and his nuclear button is always within easy reach. US President Donald Trump sent a provocative tweet in response, saying that he has a “bigger and more powerful” nuclear button than Kim’s.
Although analysts could not predict the exact timeline of the missile launch, they say another test appears to be “inevitable,” given the North’s efforts to overcome key technological hurdles to acquire fully capable ICBM technology.
“North Korea would fire its missile at a lofted range again to make sure it has overcome technical challenges to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power,” said Shin Bum-cheol, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
North Korea claimed to have completed its nuclear force after carrying out its latest ICBM launch on Nov. 29. But the country has yet to prove that its nuclear warheads can survive re-entry into the atmosphere.
Launched from north of Pyongyang on a lofted trajectory, the Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of around 4,475 kilometers and flew 950 kilometers before landing in waters between South Korea and Japan.
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)