NK key date raises new mis­sile test fear

Bangkok Post - - ASIA - AFP/EPA

SEOUL: South Korea is closely watch­ing North Korea over the pos­si­bil­ity it may launch an­other in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile as soon as to­day, when it cel­e­brates its found­ing an­niver­sary.

Seoul’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry spokes­woman, Eu­gene Lee, said yes­ter­day that Py­ongyang could po­ten­tially con­duct its next ICBM tests this week­end or around Oct 10, an­other North Korean hol­i­day mark­ing the found­ing of its rul­ing party.

North Korea has pre­vi­ously marked key dates with dis­plays of mil­i­tary power, but now its tests ap­pear to be driven by the need to im­prove mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The North is just com­ing off its sixth and the most pow­er­ful nu­clear test to date on Sun­day in what it claimed was a det­o­na­tion of a ther­monu­clear weapon built for its ICBMs. The coun­try tested its de­vel­op­men­tal Hwa­song-14 ICBMs twice in July and an­a­lysts say the flight data from the launches in­di­cate the mis­siles could cover a broad swath of the con­ti­nen­tal United States, in­clud­ing ma­jor cities such as Los An­ge­les and Chicago, when per­fected.

North Korea fired the ICBMs at highly lofted an­gles in July to re­duce ranges and avoid other coun­tries. But South Korean of­fi­cials say the next launches could be con­ducted at an­gles close to op­er­a­tional as the North would seek to test whether the war­heads sur­vive the harsh con­di­tions of at­mo­spheric re-en­try and det­o­nate prop­erly.

In Wash­ing­ton, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­it­er­ated on Thurs­day that mil­i­tary ac­tion is “cer­tainly” an op­tion against North Korea, as his ad­min­is­tra­tion ten­ta­tively con­curred with the pariah na­tion’s claim to have tested a hy­dro­gen bomb.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the US was still as­sess­ing last week­end’s un­der­ground ex­plo­sion but so far noted noth­ing in­con­sis­tent with Py­ongyang’s claim.

“Mil­i­tary ac­tion would cer­tainly be an op­tion,” Mr Trump told a White House news con­fer­ence. “I would pre­fer not going the route of the mil­i­tary, but it’s some­thing cer­tainly that could hap­pen.”

Pressed on whether he could ac­cept a sce­nario in which the iso­lated na­tion had nukes but was “con­tained and de­terred”, Mr Trump de­murred. “I don’t put my ne­go­ti­a­tions on the ta­ble, un­like past ad­min­is­tra­tions. I don’t talk about them. But I can tell you North Korea is be­hav­ing badly and it’s got to stop,” he said.

North Korea broke from its pat­tern of lofted launches last month when it fired a pow­er­ful new in­ter­me­di­ate range mis­sile, the Hwa­song-12, over north­ern Ja­pan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un then called the launch a “mean­ing­ful pre­lude” to tar­get­ing the US Pacific is­land ter­ri­tory of Guam and called for his mil­i­tary to con­duct more bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches over the Pacific Ocean.

South Korean ex­perts say that the launch was Py­ongyang’s at­tempt to make mis­siles fly­ing over Ja­pan an ac­cepted norm as it seeks to test new pro­jec­tiles in con­di­tions close to op­er­a­tional and win

more mil­i­tary space in a re­gion dom­i­nated by en­e­mies.

Mr Kim, a third-generation ruler in his 30s, has con­ducted four of North Korea’s six nu­clear tests since tak­ing power in 2011. His mil­i­tary has main­tained a torrid pace in testing weapons, which also in­clude solid-fuel mis­siles built to be fired from road mo­bile launch­ers or sub­marines.

In ac­cel­er­at­ing his pur­suit of nu­clear weapons, Mr Kim is seen as seek­ing a real nu­clear de­ter­rent to help en­sure the sur­vival of his gov­ern­ment and also the stronger bar­gain­ing power that would come from it.

Wash­ing­ton, Seoul and Tokyo have been push­ing for stronger sanc­tions to pun­ish Py­ongyang, such as deny­ing the coun­try oil sup­plies. China and Rus­sia have been call­ing for talks, say­ing sanc­tions aren’t work­ing.

North Korea’s in­ter­me­di­ate-range strate­gic bal­lis­tic rocket Hwa­song-12 lifts off on Aug 29.

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