North Korea would be close to testing intercontinental missile

In making a year-end speech, President Kim Jong-un also said that North Korea would continue to increase its military capabilities

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un said on Sunday that his country was finalizing preparations for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that would mark a step forward in its bid to build a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States.

In making a year-end address on the state TV network, Kim also said that North Korea would continue to increase its military capabilities, with emphasis on preventive nuclear attacks, according to a transcript of its speech by the Korean Central Agency.

Kim said that North Korea would continue to develop nuclear weapons until the US end annual military exercises in South Korea, reiterating a long-standing government requirement in Pyongyang.

In 2016, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests, and launched dozens of rockets.

Leverage Bid

“North Korea is showing its leverage ahead of future negotiations,” said Kim Tae-woo, who teaches military issues at South Korea’s Konyang University. “North Korea’s hope to be recognized as a nuclear power through some sort of big deal with the U.S. hasn’t lessened, and we may even be seeing Kim deploying ICBMs this year.”

The regime said previously it had the ability to mount nuclear warheads on missiles that could reach the U.S., an assertion that was bolstered by its launch of a long-range rocket in February and another in August. South Korean officials have said North Korea may have made “significant” progress in developing missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, said the regime may test a missile before Kim’s Jan. 8 birthday or Trump’s inauguration. And in an assessment of Kim’s speech, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said North Korea could conduct a test depending on “upcoming political circumstances.”

In his remarks, Kim said he would “gladly join hands” with anyone who seeks better relations between the two Koreas. South Korea may hold a presidential election earlier than the current schedule of December after Park Geun-hye was impeached last month over an influence-peddling scandal.

Park has called for sanctions to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear ambitions. She is suspended from power while the Constitutional Court considers whether the parliamentary motion to impeach her was constitutional. If it agrees, a special election will follow in 60 days.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and South Korean opposition heavyweight Moon Jae-in are neck-and-neck in presidential polls. Both served as senior officials under former president Roh Moo-hyun, who advocated greater exchanges with North Korea. Ban has yet to formally declare any plans to run while Moon said he’d welcome a chance to compete for the presidency.

North Korea is banned under UN Security Council resolutions from developing ballistic missiles and testing nuclear devices. The council in late November unanimously passed sanctions that include cutting North Korea’s coal exports, one of the few sources of hard currency for Kim’s regime, after the country conducted its fifth test in September.

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