South Korea Says North Korea Preparing ‘Imminent’ Nuclear Test as Biden Prepares Visit

People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news progr
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers on Thursday that North Korea is preparing for a new provocative nuclear weapons test and missile launch, and could time them to coincide with President Joe Biden’s visit to Seoul.

“We were told that there are signs of a missile launch even though the country is in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and with regard to a nuclear test, all preparations have been completed and they’re gauging the timing,” South Korean Rep. Ha Tae-keung told reporters after the briefing.

South Korea’s presidential National Security Office concurred that North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile appears “imminent.”

The NIS suggested North Korea could view nuclear tests and missile launches as a means of proving it has not been debilitated by its first admitted coronavirus outbreak and a way of decisively rejecting offers of assistance from South Korea, the United States, and their allies.

“China is No. 1 on North Korea’s list for accepting foreign support, followed by international organizations, while the U.S. and South Korea would probably be the last ones on the list. It appears that the North thinks the situation can be controlled if it gets support from China and others,” the NIS said.

On the subject of the coronavirus outbreak, the NIS noted North Korea lacks the medical resources to diagnose or monitor Covid-19 infections, so it appears to be quarantining everyone who has a fever.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday that the White House is prepared for North Korean provocations during President Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan this weekend.

“Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both in the days leading into, on or after the president’s trip to the region,” Sullivan said.

“If North Korea conducts a long-range missile or nuclear test during Biden’s Seoul visit, it clearly marks a deliberate provocation aimed at extorting concessions from Washington,” speculated Professor Yang Moo-jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies. 

Yang added that North Korea might not actually have the capability to conduct a nuclear or ICBM test, thanks to the pandemic and the massive quarantines imposed by the Communist regime.

The Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS), a D.C.-based think tank, said satellite photos show continued activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site, which has been undergoing refurbishment for the past three months. 

Another research group, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), said satellite photos show construction activity at the reactor North Korea uses to produce weapons-grade plutonium.


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