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Western intelligence officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear weapons test for the first time in over four years. Renewed tensions on the peninsula prompted China’s atomic envoy to meet his South Korean counterpart in Seoul on Tuesday calling the situation “severe.”
According to a statement from South Korea’s foreign ministry, Noh Kyu-Duk hoped his Chinese counterpart Liu Xiaoming would play a “constructive role” in urging North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un recently warned he would use nuclear weapons ‘preemptively’ if threatened. The dictator recently presided over another massive military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s revolutionary army.
Kim pledged to develop nuclear weapons at the “fastest possible speed,” according to his state-run media. There are concerns that the North Korean dictator will use the opportunity to unleash a new nuclear test to spoil the upcoming summit of President Biden on May 21 in South Korea, days after the country’s new leader takes the helm next week.
The U.S. military maintains a force of 28,500 troops in South Korea.
There are calls to return tactical nuclear warheads to South Korea for the first time in decades after North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in late March for the first time since 2017, following a flurry of shorter-range ballistic missiles this year.
North Korea rolled out its new ICBM during a military parade in October 2020. The missile tested in recent weeks flew nearly 4,000 miles into space, more than 15 times the orbit of the International Space Station. It has the range to reach the United States, experts say. It’s still unclear if North Korea has developed a nuclear warhead that can successfully re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
In recent weeks, U.S. spy satellites have detected new tunnels being bored in the country, at a location where such tests have been conducted in the past, two U.S. defense officials told Fox News.
The officials said new activity indicates that another nuclear test will possibly occur in the coming weeks. North Korea has conducted six nuclear weapons tests in its history, beginning in 2006.
According to the defense officials, intelligence analysts discovered excavation equipment active in Kilju, located in the Hamgyong province, at a site where a nuclear weapons test had most recently been conducted in September 2017.
South Korea’s incoming president is urging the Biden administration to deploy nuclear weapons to the peninsula for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Conservative president-elect Yoon Suk-Yeol, 61, will be sworn in next week. It’s not immediately clear what type of strategic assets he has in mind. During the 1980s, the U.S. military deployed tactical, short-range nuclear missiles to South Korea.
On Sept. 27, 1991, then-President George H.W. Bush ordered all deployed short-range nuclear missiles dismantled. He also announced the U.S. Navy would no longer deploy nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles aboard warships and submarines under “normal circumstances.”
The United States will take over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month. When Russian forces launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, it served as president of the 15-nation panel. Some think Russia’s veto power will keep more aggressive sanctions from being launched at Pyongyang.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine has come at a great time for North Korea. While the U.S. would like the United Nations to punish the North with more severe sanctions for any and all intercontinental ballistic missile tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can play up his great relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and be sure that Russia will block any such move,” Donald Kirk wrote in “The Hill,” Monday.
Kim Jong Un visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok in 2019.