Is This Kim's "Christmas Gift"? Satellite Images Suggest North Korea Readying ICBM Tests

Just a few short days after Pyongyang warned "it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get" after N.Korea test-fired two short-range missiles on Thanksgiving Day, and then one just days before, it appears Kim is repeating an all too familiar pattern of doing threatening things on American holidays.

As we noted previously, the north has launched dozens of "short-range" missiles since May, but has largely stuck to its word that it would refrain from ICBM tests, despite occasional disputes about the precise the nature of some of the tests.

“We’re watching it very closely,” Trump said this week, noting he would be “disappointed” if that happens.

But tonight, NBC News reports, citing new satellite images shared by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, that North Korea has begun fresh work at a factory involved in the development and production of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers.

Lewis said Saturday Pyongyang is expanding work at the March 16 Factory in Pyongsong, where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "watched preparations" for the 2017 test of the Hwasong-15 missile, which was theoretically capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

"The site makes trucks to transport and launch ICBMs, so this is a long-term development," Lewis told Axios via email.

"But what it shows is that North Korea is broadly expanding its missile capabilities." 

“We believe North Korea erects this structure when the facility is involved in producing or modifying ICBM launchers,” Lewis concluded in a written analysis.

“There is activity at a number of locations indicating that North Korea is laying the groundwork for an expansion of their ICBM program — more systems, more buildings, more capabilities,” he said.

Gen. Charles Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces and air component commander for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said this week:

“What I would expect is some type of long-range ballistic missile would be the gift. It’s just a matter of does it come on Christmas Eve, does it come on Christmas Day, does it come after the New Year.”

Suggesting he knows what to expect as North Korea's "Christmas gift" to Washington: a long-range ballistic missile test.

When North Korea conducted a series of long-range missile tests in 2017, Trump threatened the nation with “fire and fury.”

“The only option is to accept the reality that North Korea is a nuclear-armed state that holds the U.S. at risk,” Lewis said.

“The Trump administration had an opportunity, and I think they’ve blown it.”

How will Trump respond this time, given his "beautiful" relationship with Kim (and leverage on phase one trade deal details with China - Kim's apparent puppetmaster - now off the table)?

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