SEOUL – South Korea’s unification minister said on Tuesday at the country’s capital that North Korea may announce the completion of its nuclear program within a year, given the progress that it was making in this field.
Cho Myoung-gyon, speaking at a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club, said that experts estimated that Pyongyang may take some two or three years to complete its nuclear program, but given that they have surprised on previous occasions with the speed of their breakthroughs, it would not be strange if they were to announce its completion in 2018.
He added that next year would be a landmark one for North Korea as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of its foundation.
In relation to the nuclear program, Cho highlighted the fact that the Kim Jong-un-led regime has not carried out any tests in over two months, which may mean a good opportunity to initiate dialogue in the peninsula.
However, he added, Pyongyang has not made any gesture that may help advance the resolution of the nuclear crisis – which for Seoul and its allies means the denuclearization of North Korea – or the improvement of relations between the North and the South.
As to North Korea’s recent lack of weapons testing, the minister considered several possibilities, including the option that seasonal factors were at play, since historically Pyongyang has carried out very few weapons tests towards the end of the year, a season during which the country is focused on its winter drills.
Another factor, Cho suggested, was Pyongyang’s need to hone existing technology like missile reentry, which allows a long-range missile to reenter the atmosphere without disintegrating.
Cho also considered the possibility of leader Kim Jong-un using a greater proportion of available resources to help the country grow economically, rather than funnel them to the military sector.
He did not rule out the prospect of Pyongyang being intimidated by the recent drills carried out by Seoul and Washington, which have included the deployment of “strategic assets” such as three nuclear-powered carriers.
On a different note, Cho said that North Korea had not yet made any statement on its eventual participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics that are set to be held in South Korea’s Pyeongchang County in 2018.