US officials have said they fear North Korea may test fire another missile, using the 64th anniversary of the end of the Korean War to mark its new military assertiveness.
Both US and South Korean media have cited intelligence and military officials saying transporter vehicles carrying launching equipment had been seen on the move in North Korea, a suggestion that an imminent test may be underway. July 27 marks the anniversary of the end of the three-year-long war and is celebrated as Victory Day in North Korea.
“Movements by transporter erector launchers carrying intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch tubes have been continuously observed in North Pyongan (province),” a South Korean government source was quoted by the country’s Yonhap news agency, according to the AFP.
“There is a high possibility that the North may carry out (the test launch) around the July 27 armistice day.”
Reuters quoted unidentified US officials saying they had seen increased North Korean activity at a site in the western city of Kusong that could be preparations for another missile test. It was the latest of a series of signs over the past week that the North may be preparing for launching an ICBM or an intermediate-range missile.
After months of sabre-rattling from Washington, and following a series of missile tests by the East Asian nation, North Korea earlier this month said it had conducted its first test of an ICBM and mastered the technology needed to deploy a nuclear warhead via the missile.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who personally oversaw the launch, described it as gift to the “American b**tards”.
Pyongyang’s state media said the test verified the atmospheric re-entry of the warhead, which experts say may be able to reach the US states of Alaska or Hawaii. The news triggered officials in Hawaii to test emergency preparedness.
Despite such concerns, the vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff recently said the 4 July test by North Korea stopped short of showing it had the ability to strike the United States “with any degree of accuracy”.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon spy agency, had assessed that North Korea will be able to field a nuclear-capable ICBM by next year, earlier than previously thought.
According to two US officials, however, some other analysts who study North Korea’s missile programme do not agree with the DIA assessment.
“DIA and the South Koreans tend to be at the leading edge of estimates on North Korea’s military programmes, and that’s understandable,” said one of the officials.
“There is no question that the DPRK has moved further and faster with its effort to develop a reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM that can be built in quantity, but there are still doubts about whether it can cross that threshold in a year.”
Kusong has previously been the scene of past tests, including one carried out in in May when an intermediate-range ballistic missile travelled more than 435 miles.
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