North Korea is accused of testing ICBM systems and restoring a nuclear test site

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Speaker of Vietnam's National Assembly, at the National Assembly in Hanoi
FILE PHOTO: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting with Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Speaker of Vietnam’s National Assembly, at the National Assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam on Friday, March 1, 2019. SeongJoon Cho/Pool via Reuters

March 11, 2022

By Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea has deployed its largest-ever ICBM on two recent launches and appears to be recovering some tunnels at its closed nuclear test site, US and South Korean officials said on Friday.

The reports are the latest to suggest the country may soon follow through on its threats to test long-range ICBMs or nuclear weapons for the first time since 2017.

Escalating tensions in North Korea comes as South Korea elected a new conservative president on Wednesday.

Yoon Suk-yeol has said pre-emptive strikes may be needed to counter an imminent attack by the North and has pledged to buy American THAAD interceptor missiles while remaining open about resuming stalled denuclearization talks.

Reclusive North Korea and the prosperous, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

South Korea’s military said Friday it had identified unspecified activity to restore some tunnels at Punngye-ri, the north’s only known nuclear test site, that were destroyed with explosives when it closed in 2018.

Analysts say that with few details on the extent of the demolition, it’s unclear how soon the site could be used again. It’s also unclear if the activity is related to a series of smaller natural earthquakes recently reported in the region.

The Pentagon and the US State Department declined to comment on “intelligence matters” when asked about Punngye-ri.

In what Washington called a “serious escalation that requires a concerted global response,” North Korea launched a massive new ICBM on launches on Feb. 27 and March 5, U.S. and South Korean officials said. Seoul issued a strong condemnation and called on Pyongyang to immediately stop actions that increase tensions.

“The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a full-range test in the future, possibly disguised as a space launch,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement .

North Korea did not specify which missile was used, but said it was testing components for reconnaissance satellites that leader Kim Jong Un said would be launched soon to monitor military activities by the United States and its allies.

She says her military activities, including nuclear weapons, are her sovereign right and are only for self-defense. She accused the United States and its allies of threatening them with “hostile policies” such as military exercises and sanctions.

The US Treasury Department, which has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea over its weapons programs, on Friday announced new moves targeting Russian individuals and companies it associates with Pyongyang’s procurement activities for its missile programs in response to the launches has brought.

A senior US government official said before the announcement that the goal of the new sanctions is to prevent North Korea from “gaining access to foreign goods and technology that will enable it to advance its weapons programs.”

He said the steps would be followed by a range of other measures in the coming days.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Yoon said they had agreed to expand three-way ties with the United States in response to the evolving military threat from North Korea.

Japan is also considering imposing additional sanctions on North Korea, as well as other diplomatic options, Kishida told reporters after a phone call with South Korea’s president-elect.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman again condemned the Pyongyang launches in a call with her counterparts in Japan and South Korea on Friday, saying Washington will continue “to pursue diplomacy,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.


The United States and South Korea both said the missile system, known as the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2020 and resurfaced at a defense exhibition in October 2021.

Analysts said the tests likely used only one stage of the giant Hwasong-17 and may have adjusted its fuel burn to fly at lower altitudes.

The intelligence assessments released simultaneously by the United States and South Korea came as North Korean state media reported on Friday that Kim had inspected the Sohae satellite launch site.

The facility was used to launch a satellite into orbit and also to test various rocket components, including rocket engines and launch vehicles, which South Korean and US officials said require similar technology to that used in ICBMs.

North Korea “historically has used its space launches to hide its attempted advances on its ICBM program,” the US official told reporters.

At Sohae Station, Kim inspected facilities and ordered their modernization and expansion to ensure “various missiles can be launched to carry multipurpose satellites, including a military reconnaissance satellite,” reported the North’s KCNA news agency.

“I think the North Koreans are really working on a number of technologies that have applications on both ICBMs and satellites,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland in Washington; writing by Josh Smith; editing by Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell) North Korea is accused of testing ICBM systems and restoring a nuclear test site

Bobby Allyn

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