Kim Jong Un says North Korea close to testing inter-continental missile

Bloomberg

Kim Jong Un said North Korea is in the "last stage" of preparations to test-fire an inter-continental ballistic missile, refusing to slow his nuclear arms development as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office in Washington.

Kim made his remarks in a New Year televised address as he outlined his country's military achievements for the past year, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests under Kim and launched a series of long-range rockets.

North Korea "will continue to strengthen its ability based on nuclear might to mount a preemptive attack," Kim said during a half-hour speech that touched on a range of issues, including economic policy and relations with South Korea.

Since taking power in late 2011, the North Korean leader has concentrated on developing nuclear missiles that could reach the U.S. The country has refused to accept U.S. demands to freeze its arms development before the two sides can resume international disarmament talks.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, likened Kim to a "maniac" during his campaign while suggesting he could meet with the North Korea leader for nuclear talks. While Kim made no mention of Trump in his speech, his comments released Sunday signal North Korea may seek to test-fire a long-range missile around the inauguration to raise stakes ahead of potential talks with the Trump administration.

"North Korea is showing its leverage ahead of future negotiations with the Trump administration," said Kim Tae-woo, who teaches military issues at South Korea's Konyang University. "North Korea's hope to be recognized as a nuclear power through some sort of big deal with the U.S. hasn't lessened, and we may even be seeing Kim deploying ICBMs this year."

The regime said previously it had the ability to mount nuclear warheads on to missiles with the range to reach the U.S., an assertion that was bolstered by its launch of a long-range rocket in February and another in August. It conducted its fifth nuclear test in September.

Kim said he would "gladly join hands" with anyone who seeks better relations between North Korea and South Korea.

South Korea may hold a presidential election earlier than its initial schedule for December after President Park Geun-hye was impeached last month over an influence-peddling scandal.

Park has called for sanctions to convince North Korea to end its nuclear-arms ambitions. She is suspended from power while the Constitutional Court considers whether the parliamentary motion to impeach her was constitutional. If it agrees, a special election will follow in 60 days to replace her.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and South Korean opposition heavyweight Moon Jae-in are neck-and-neck in presidential polls. Both served as senior officials under South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who advocated greater exchanges with North Korea. Ban has yet to formally declare his intention to run while Moon said he'd welcome a chance to compete for the presidency.

North Korea is banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions from developing ballistic missiles and testing nuclear devices. The council in late November unanimously passed sanctions that include cutting North Korea's coal exports, one of the few sources of hard currency for the Kim regime after the country conducted its fifth test in September.

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