Intelligence agencies have expressed apprehension about Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Korea with the warning that “there is no stopping North Korea now.”
North Korea is about to conduct a nuclear test, a South Korean politician said on Thursday, as the United States warned it could take place when President Joe Biden visits the country this week.
The visits to Seoul, followed by Tokyo, are being touted as evidence that Washington is trying to cement its years-long pivot in Asia, where China’s growing commercial and military power is undermining decades of US dominance.
He will also meet with Australian leaders to discuss military alliances in the region.
However, Biden’s first trip as president to the region appears to be overshadowed by an increasingly belligerent North Korea.
Despite a spiraling covid outbreak, Pyongyang’s “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are just looking for the right time,” South Korean politician Ha Tae-keung said after being briefed by Seoul’s spy agency. .
US intelligence says there is a “genuine possibility” North Korea’s Kim Jong-un could stage this “provocation” after Biden arrives in Seoul on Friday night, his administration said.
This could mean “more missile tests, long-range missile tests, or a nuclear test, or frankly both” around the time of Biden’s trip, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Satellite images indicate that North Korea is preparing to conduct what would be its seventh nuclear test, which would cap a record barrage of launches this year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“North Korea will want to attract world attention by conducting a nuclear test during President Biden’s visit,” Cheong Seong-chang, of the Sejong Institute’s Center for North Korea Studies, told AFP.
Biden, who will visit some of the nearly 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, is ready to make “adjustments” to the US military posture in the region, and Seoul’s new hawkish president Yoon Suk-yeol is eager. to strengthen ties.
Both Biden and Yoon have said they are willing to enter talks with Pyongyang but hope to see real progress on denuclearization, which analysts say is anathema to Kim and will stall the talks.
“Biden judges that the North Korea issue cannot be solved through impromptu meetings between the leaders like Trump did,” said Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Sejong Institute.
North Korea will closely watch the outcome of the Yoon-Biden meeting on Saturday, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies.
“Depending on the outcome, North Korea will decide whether to speed up or slow down its nuclear tests and ICBMs,” Yang said.
Sullivan said the security situation regarding North Korea was being “closely” coordinated with South Korea and Japan and that he had also discussed the issue with his Chinese counterpart on Wednesday.
Kim is likely still debating what to do, particularly given this US pressure on Beijing, Kim’s only major ally, to help rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, said the Sejong Institute’s Cheong.
Kim is also well aware of the impasse in the UN Security Council after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, making it “highly likely” that a nuclear or ICBM test will take place during Biden’s Asian tour, Cheong added.
Moscow would likely block any UN attempt to impose further sanctions on Pyongyang over a weapons test.
After Seoul, Biden heads to Japan on Sunday for talks with top leaders in Tokyo, before joining a Quad summit, a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
Sullivan said Biden heads to Asia with “the wind at our back” after successful US leadership in the Western response to President Vladimir Putin’s nearly three-month invasion of Ukraine.
The high military, diplomatic and economic toll imposed on Russia is seen in Washington as a warning to China, given its stated ambitions to gain control of democratically governed Taiwan, even if it means going to war.
But the fact that it comes to Asia under the shadow of a possible North Korean nuclear test is due in part to its “strategic neglect” of the region since taking office, said Park Won-gon, a professor at the University of Ewha.
Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for years, after an extraordinary show of diplomacy between then-US President Donald Trump and Kim, brokered by Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in, finally ended in a failure.
Trump held three headline-grabbing meetings with Kim and claimed the two were “in love,” but analysts say little or no progress has been made in dismantling the North’s nuclear programs.
At a large military parade in Pyongyang recently, Kim said he was building up his nuclear arsenal “as fast as possible.”
“In terms of denuclearization and ties between the United States and North Korea, we’ve come back to a situation where it’s hard to find any progress,” Park said.
“There is no way to really stop North Korea now.”
Originally published as North Korea ‘ready for nuclear test’ with Joe Biden in Seoul