US on alert as North Korea prepares to unveil new long-range missile at military parade

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White House officials said Kim’s latest weapon – a solid-fuel intercontinental-range ballistic missile – would probably go on public display at an October 10 military parade for the 75th anniversary celebration of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

We encourage North Korea to return to the dialogue and negotiation and refrain from all provocations

White House official

A senior official told National Interest magazine: “That seems to be the most likely of scenarios based on their history — and it’s what we are expecting, but, of course, we are hoping to be proven wrong.

“As we have stated on numerous occasions, we strongly encourage North Korea to return to the path of dialogue and negotiation and refrain from all provocations.

“If they are looking for regime security, that is the only way they can ensure such a goal.”

Defence analysts said until now North Korea has only used liquid-based fuel missiles which take longer to prepare and cannot be left in a ready-to-launch state because of the volatile nature of the chemicals involved.

Solid-fuel missiles can be left in a fuelled state and can be launched much more quickly as a result.

Security sources said this type of missile was was also “harder to detect and destroy in a military conflict”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said there were no signs North Korea had been reprocessing spent fuel from its main nuclear reactor into plutonium in the past year but warned it appeared to have continued to enrich uranium – another potential fuel for missiles.

The UN agency has not had access to North Korea since the secretive communist state expelled its inspectors in 2009 but has continued to monitor its activities from afar, including with satellite imagery.

It is “almost certain” the experimental five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is widely believed to have produced plutonium for weapons, has been shut down since early December 2018, the IAEA said in an annual report

It said: “It is almost certain that no reprocessing activity took place and that the plutonium produced in the 5MW(e) reactor during the most recent operational cycle has not been separated.”

By contrast, vehicle movements and the operation of cooling units at a fuel-rod fabrication plant at Yongbyon suggests North Korea has been producing enriched uranium with centrifuges there.

North Korea could also be enriching uranium at a facility just outside Pyongyang known as Kangson that has only attracted attention as a potential enrichment site in recent years.

The IAEA said: “The construction of this complex at Kangson took place before the construction of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon, with which it shares some characteristics.

“If the Kangson complex is a centrifuge enrichment facility this would be consistent with the Agency’s assessed chronology of the development of North Korea’s reported uranium enrichment programme.”

North Korea has gone several months since its last missile test and nearly three years since testing an ICBM or nuclear weapon.

The unveiling of a new rocket right before the US presidential election in November could be a show of strength to the winning candidate.

Masses of North Korean troops and vehicles have been practising for a next month’s major military parade.

Commercial satellite imagery analysed by 38 North, a think-tank that specialises in North Korea, showed formations of troops and vehicles at the Mirim Parade Training Ground, in the suburbs of the capital Pyongyang.

The 38 North report said: “North Korea has been widely expected to hold a major military parade on October 10 this year to mark the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

“These images provide the first evidence that rehearsals are underway.”

The Mirim facility is regularly used by troops practising the demanding marching style featured in North Korea’s military parades, which usually take place in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square in front of dignitaries.

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