North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said on Sunday that his country was making final preparations to conduct its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile — a bold statement less than a month before the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.
Although North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests in the past decade and more than 20 ballistic missile tests in 2016 alone, and although it habitually threatens to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, the country has never flight-tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
In his annual New Year’s Day speech, which was broadcast on the North’s state-run KCTV on Sunday, Mr. Kim spoke proudly of the strides he said his country had made in its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. He said North Korea would continue to bolster its weapons programs as long as the United States remained hostile and continued its joint military exercises with South Korea.
“We have reached the final stage in preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic rocket,” he said.
Analysts in the region have said Mr. Kim might conduct another weapons test in coming months, taking advantage of leadership changes in the United States and South Korea. Mr. Trump will be sworn in on Jan. 20. In South Korea, President Park Geun-hye, whose powers were suspended in a Parliamentary impeachment on Dec. 9, is waiting for the Constitutional Court to rule on whether she should be formally removed from office or reinstated.
If North Korea conducts a long-range-missile test in coming months, it will test Mr. Trump’s new administration; despite years of increasingly harsh sanctions, North Korea has been advancing toward Mr. Kim’s professed goal of arming his isolated country with the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States.
Mr. Kim’s speech on Sunday indicated that North Korea may test-launch a long-range rocket several times this year to complete its ICBM program, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute of South Korea. The first of such tests could come even before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Cheong said.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Choe Sang-hun