North Korea close to testing long-range missiles, says Kim Jong Un

Leader says country is developing long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons

An  undated image from a video distributed on Sunday by North Korean broadcaster KRT, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a speech in Pyongyang. Photograph: AP

An undated image from a video distributed on Sunday by North Korean broadcaster KRT, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a speech in Pyongyang. Photograph: AP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday that the isolated nuclear capable country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

North Korea tested ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate during 2016, although some experts have said it is years away from developing an ICBM fitted with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the United States.

“Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing and ICBM rocket test launch preparation is in its last stage,” Mr Kim said during a televised New Year’s Day speech.

The country has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The sanctions were tightened last month after Pyongyang conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test on September 9th.

A successful ICBM test launch would mark a significant step forward for secretive Pyongyang’s weapons capability.

ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500km, but some are designed to travel 10,000 km or further. The US state of California is roughly 9,000kms from North Korea.

However, North Korea has struggled to reliably deploy its intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile, succeeding just once in eight attempted launches last year.

The Musudan is designed to fly about 3,000km, posing a threat to South Korea and Japan, and possibly the US territory of Guam.

South Korea’s defence ministry declined to comment on whether North Korea would test launch an ICBM soon.

According to a senior US intelligence official, president-elect Donald Trump’s first and at that time only request for a special classified intelligence briefing was for one on North Korea and its nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea and its nuclear programme has also been of interest to retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s choice for national security advisor and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

An Chan-il, a former North Korean military officer who defected to the South and runs a think tank in Seoul, said Mr Kim will gauge Trump’s comments about his country for potential interest in dialogue and determine whether to try and conduct an ICBM test launch.

Mr Kim also said that the North would continue to develop its pre-emptive nuclear strike capability if the United States and South Korea continue to conduct annual joint military exercises.

There are 28,500 US troops based in South Korea, and North Korean state media often describes annual joint exercises as preparation for an attack.

In February, North Korea launched a satellite into space, which was widely seen as a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.

A senior US military official said last month that North Korea appears able to mount a miniaturised nuclear warhead on a missile but is still struggling with missile re-entry technology necessary for longer range strikes.

Reuters