The launch was North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone – a streak that included the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations in nearly five years – as it continues to operate a favorable environment to advance weapons development with the UN Security Council divided over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s tight-rope policy aims to force the United States to accept the idea that the North is a nuclear power and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength .
South Korean and US officials said there were signs North Korea was also continuing preparations at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern city of Punggye-ri. The North’s next nuclear test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit its ICBMs.
On Friday, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, said Washington was “preparing for all eventualities” in close coordination with its Asian allies as he attended a trilateral meeting in Seoul with its South Korean and Japanese counterparts on nuclear power. Arm wrestling with North Korea.
The United States has pledged to push for additional international sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, but the prospects for further UN Security Council action look bleak.
Russia and China have vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea for its latest ballistic tests on May 25, which the South Korean military said involved a ICBM flown on a medium-range trajectory and two short-range weapons. The tests came as Biden wrapped up his trip to South Korea and Japan, where he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to defending the two allies against the nuclear threat from the North.
In March, North Korea launched an ICBM almost straight to full capacity and saw it fly higher and longer than any weapon it had ever tested, demonstrating the potential to reach the entire American continent.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the exchange of the release of crippling US-led sanctions against North Korea and North disarmament measures.
Despite worsening economic difficulties, Kim has shown no willingness to completely abandon an arsenal he sees as his best guarantee of survival and is clearly trying to convert the dormant denuclearization talks into a mutual arms reduction negotiation with the United States, according to experts.
Kim’s pressure campaign comes as the country faces a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 in its largely unvaccinated autocracy that lacks public health tools.
GAVI, the nonprofit that runs the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, said on Friday it understood North Korea had accepted an offer of vaccines from the Chinese ally and had begun administering doses. It is not immediately clear how many doses of which vaccines the North received or how the country was rolling them out.