North Korea might begin flight testing an improved design for its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) “in the near future”, the head of the US military’s Northern Command said on Tuesday, a move that would sharply increase tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
“The North Korean regime has also indicated that it is no longer bound by the unilateral nuclear and ICBM testing moratorium announced in 2018, suggesting that Kim Jong Un may begin flight testing an improved ICBM design in the near future,” Air Force General Glen VanHerck said in written testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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The comments appeared based on North Korea’s October unveiling at a parade of what would be its largest ICBM yet, and not specific intelligence about an imminent launch.
Even during the testing lull, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for continued production of nuclear weapons for his arsenal, launched a series of smaller missiles and unveiled what would be North Korea’s largest ICBM yet at the October parade.
VanHerck told the Senate committee that Pyongyang’s “considerably larger and presumably more capable” ICBM further increased the threat to the United States. Still, he expressed confidence in the US missile defences.
The White House confirmed a Reuters news agency’s report on Monday that it has sought to reach out to North Korea but had received no response, extending a chill in relations that began at the end of Donald Trump’s administration.
Still, the White House said on Tuesday the foundation of its approach to Pyongyang will be diplomacy and denuclearisation.
State Secretary Antony Blinken, alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, told reporters at a press availability that “[t]ogether, we’re addressing core security concerns, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and maritime security across the region as well”.
The remarks came amid the US top diplomat’s first trip to South Korea.
North Korean state news reported that the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Yo Jong, criticised the Biden administration for continuing military drills in South Korea.
“If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” Kim said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.
The joint US-South Korean springtime military drill begun last week was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk, as well as the continuing efforts to engage with the North.