North Korea ICBM test likely next year, think tank says

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Dec. 29 (UPI) — North Korea could test an intercontinental ballistic missile between now and March to challenge the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and increase Pyongyang’s bargaining power, a South Korean think tank said.

The Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul said Tuesday in its 2021 International Security Outlook that a future Biden administration is unlikely to lift economic sanctions against Kim Jong Un, while taking a more principled diplomatic approach to North Korea, News 1 reported.

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According to the think tank, North Korea could renew tensions on the peninsula with submarine-launched ballistic missile or short-range missile launches after Biden’s inauguration in January and ahead of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the spring.

After an initial round of provocations, North Korea could turn its attention to the test of an ICBM, which the regime has previously claimed could reach the continental United States.

“After creating tensions, depending on the response of South Korea and the United States, an ICBM could be launched in the second half” of 2021, the think tank said.

The South Korean analysis also did not rule out an ICBM test in the first quarter of 2021 to challenge Biden, who served as vice president under President Barack Obama.

Obama abided by a policy of “strategic patience” on North Korea, and declined to hold talks with Pyongyang until the regime could commit to fully verifiable denuclearization.

The Asan report added that China could boost economic support and trade with North Korea to gain an edge in the U.S.-China conflict amid ongoing tensions.

China and Russia also “openly support” North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Moscow and Beijing are expected to build closer ties during Biden’s presidency, the report said.

Russia has been a close supporter of Pyongyang in recent years, but Moscow could be key to nuclear negotiations.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that Noh Kyu-duk, South Korea’s new chief nuclear negotiator, exchanged a phone call with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Mogulov.

The two sides agreed on the need for close communication and cooperation. Noh invited Mogulov to Seoul, according to the South Korean government.