North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claims that his country is in the “last stage” of preparations to test-fire the its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is capable of carrying a nuclear payload. The statement was made during a New Years address to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. During the address Kim outlined the regime’s military achievements over the past year.
Speaking on state-run television, Kim claimed that North Korea will “continue to strengthen its ability based on nuclear might to mount a preemptive attack.”
North Korea analyst, Cheong Seong-Chang, of the Sejon Institute near Seoul stated that he believes the regime will test fire the ICBM before Kim’s birthday on January 8th, or before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th. It is believed that the test is being used as leverage to “raise the stakes” of any potential talks with the Trump Administration.
The isolation nation had focused on developing the components for an ICBM throughout 2016. The country improved rocket engines and head-shields for an ICMB while also developing the technology necessary to guide a missile after re-entry into the atmosphere following lift-off, international weapons experts said on Monday.
Experts are divided on whether or not a North Korean ICBM could pose a legitimate threat to U.S. soil. Many believe that, while they are close to a test, it will be several years before any ICBMs are developed that can reach the U.S. mainland. At their closest points, the United States is approximately 5,500 miles from North Korea. ICBMs boast a minimum range of approximately 3,400 miles but can travel as far as 6,200 miles or further.
Experts claim that the country can produce many of the missile parts domestically due to improvements made to its missile development infrastructure in 2016. The missiles can also be paid for by taxing small arms sales and wealthy traders.
Despite Kim’s claims that the missile is in its final stages of preparations, South Korea’s Defense Ministry claims that North Korea isn’t showing any signs of imminent launch.