] North Korea is nearing the final stage of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile and is likely to continue test-launches and nuclear experiments in order to perfect the technology, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said on Sept. 18.
In a briefing to a parliamentary defense committee, the ministry also said that the North’s launch on Sept. 15 of the intermediate-range Hwasong-12 rocket appears to be intended at demonstrating its capability to strike the US territory of Guam. In August, the communist regime had threated to attack the Pacific island, some 3,400 kilometers from Pyongyang, with four Hwasong-12 missiles.
Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong-on on Sept. 16 declared the rocket’s combat power and reliability have been proved through tests and the weapon is now ready for full deployment. He also claimed that the country is closer to achieving nuclear ambitions.
“We have tentatively concluded that the latest missile fired was Hwasung-12, an IRBM, and that the North has IRBM capacities. We see the communist regime is at its final stage of developing an ICBM,” Maj. Gen. Jang Kyung-soo, acting deputy minister for policy told lawmakers.
“(The North) will likely carry out more nuclear tests and missile launches to secure nuclear capabilities.”
While there has not been unusual movement spotted, the Punggye-ri nuclear test site appears to be ready for another test at any time, he added. On Sept. 5, the North conducted its sixth and largest underground atomic detonation.
On Sept. 15, North Korea fired off the IRBM that few 3,700 kilometers with a maximum altitude of about 770 kilometers over Japan. It marks the second provocation this month after the Sept. 3 nuclear test, which appears to be the sixth and the strongest.
On Sept. 15, the North test-fired the Hwasong-12 at a normal angle, over Japan’s airspace. It flew 3,700 kilometers, further than the distance between Pyongyang and Guam.
The North has fired 19 missile on 14 occasions this year and has launched eight provocative missiles since President Moon Jae-in took office in May.
In the parliamentary briefing, in which Defense Minister Song Young-moo presided, the ministry also revealed the joint exercises plans with the US and Japan.
South Korea’s Navy and the US will hold a joint exercise next month involving “the US carrier strike group,” assets including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and another which the US is planning to send to waters near the peninsula. The name of the carrier was not revealed.
Between late September and early October, the two allies will also conduct a combined missile alert drill joined by Japan.
In a warning to the recalcitrant North, the US is expected to dispatch B-1B strategic bombers in Guam to Korea later this month.
About the recent announcement from the Unification Ministry over its plan to send $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea via UN agencies, the defense chief said it is likely to be delayed.
“I heard that the government would push back the date on which they will deliver the humanitarian aid package,” Defense Minister Song said.
When asked over the appropriateness of giving humanitarian support to the North, he refused to answer, saying the question should go to the Unification Minister.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry on Sept. 18 reiterated its stance that its humanitarian support project targeting infants and pregnant women should be dealt with separately from political circumstances.
By Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org