Wishing to welcome incoming US President Donald Trump with a “nice surprise,” Pyongyang is reportedly preparing to launch two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) during his inauguration on Friday.
While not confirmed, South Korean news agency Yonhap is reporting that mobile launchers are transporting at least two missiles. The projectiles measure an estimated 50 feet, shorter than the ICBMs currently used by North Korea.
Trump has taken an antagonistic stance toward the communist nation, tweeting in early January, “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US It won’t happen!”
According to Professor Andrei Lankov from Kookmin University in Seoul, a missile launch is “highly plausible.”
“Judging by earlier behavior they usually like to greet a newly elected American president with some kind of nice surprise like a nuclear (test) or missile launch…Because President-elect Trump tweeted that ‘it won’t happen,’ such a launch could be seen as a serious humiliation for (the US),” he told CNN.
DPRK launch rumors come shortly after satellite images have surfaced indicating a rise in activity at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, a major North Korean nuclear site. Compiled from October 2016 to January 2017, DPRK watch site 38 North described the images, saying, “Commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea may be preparing to resume operations at its 5 MWe reactor, which had been suspended since late-2015. Throughout the previous four months, there has been a continued presence of vehicles at and around the 5 MWe reactor suggesting either ongoing maintenance, refueling or preparations for renewed operations.”
A February 2016 report from US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested that plutonium from Yongbyon’s reactor was being used to conduct nuclear testing.
Making note of North Korea’s 2013 plans to “refurbish and restart” its nuclear facilities, the report read, “We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor. We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months.”
The normal range for an ICBM is about 3,400 miles, and experts say that if Pyongyang does conduct a launch, its range will be less than half of that figure, about 1,550 miles.
North Korea has defiantly continued its nuclear-weapons development, despite sanctions and international outcry. On Tuesday, Pyongyang declared that it will continue to grow the economy and develop nuclear weapons.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) wrote, “By firmly sticking to the policy, we will soar as a great political, military and economic power.”
KCNA then quoted a South Korean unification ministry official, who said, “North Korea is sending messages (to the US in various ways) in a bid to put pressure on the US to shift its policy toward North Korea.”