South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung said after being briefed by the spy agency on Thursday that Seoul’s National Intelligence Service had also detected preparations for nuclear and missile tests in the North.
“In spite of Corona Virus Situations [in North Korea]”There are signs that a missile was launched,” Ha told reporters, attributing the information to the spy agency. “The country has also finished preparing for a nuclear test and just waited for the right time.”
The largely unvaccinated North Korea has declared a “severe national emergency” since the first official case of the coronavirus was reported last week. Because of the lack of testing capacity there, the true scale of the outbreak in the reclusive country is unclear, but state media have estimated nearly two million possible cases.
South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said in a briefing Wednesday that Pyongyang has rejected offers of coronavirus-related assistance from Seoul and Washington. Kim said that given Pyongyang’s lack of response, it would be difficult to discuss North Korea’s assistance at the upcoming meeting between Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
“If North Korea conducts a long-range missile or nuclear test during Biden’s visit to Seoul, it is clearly a deliberate provocation designed to extort concessions from Washington,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
During a summit in 2019, President Donald Trump rejected North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s request for sanctions relief in exchange for disarmament steps. North Korea has since rejected Washington’s offer of nuclear talks and has ramped up weapons testing activities.
Yang said that while North Korea will view the presidential summit between South Korea and the United States as a new opportunity to provoke, it is unclear whether the country has the bandwidth to conduct a nuclear test or a long-range missile. Kim Jong-un this week called for “a nationwide anti-epidemic war to combat the acute public health crisis” and even mobilized his army to help supply medicine in Pyongyang.
Analysts said that a nuclear test by North Korea would negatively affect international efforts to provide the country with vaccine doses, medicines and other forms of support.
Rep. Ha said that North Korea considers China its preferred donor to help fight the coronavirus. He said the United States and South Korea are the last two countries North Korea will ask for help.
Kim Tae-hyo, the national security adviser, said if Pyongyang made a serious provocation during Biden’s three-day visit to South Korea, allies could resort to “Plan B” that could change the summit schedule.
Biden arrives in South Korea on Friday to begin his Asian trip, which will focus on strengthening US ties with allies amid growing competition from China.
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