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N.K. to factor in Seoul-Washington drills, Trump for provocations: report

All Headlines 16:27 January 04, 2017

SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea may carry out provocations in the spring to protest a military exercise between Seoul and Washington or at some point around late summer by which time the new U.S. administration's North Korea policy would be fleshed out, a local report said Wednesday.

The projection by the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS) came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's message that the North is in the final stages of preparing to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

"North Korea is expected to focus on developing nuclear weapons and ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. mainland as early as possible in a bid to prod the U.S. into having negotiations with it and hold an upper hand for possible talks," the report by the INSS speculated.

As for the prime time for North Korea's provocations, the report called for special attention to some point around March when South Korea and the U.S. hold annual military drills. Pyongyang has long denounced them as a rehearsal for a northern invasion.

It also picked a period around August and September which would be about the time the new U.S. administration of Donald Trump will have a defined North Korea policy and Seoul and Washington will have made progress in deploying an advanced U.S. missile defense system in the South.

"There is a high possibility that North Korea would make nuclear and missile provocations as it will seek to have the upper hand in resetting its ties with Seoul and Washington where critical political events are slated this year," it said.

South Korea could also hold a presidential election earlier than expected this year as parliament voted in December to impeach President Park Geun-hye over allegations of corruption.

U.S.-elect Donald Trump tweeted Monday that Pyongyang's development of "a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. ... won't happen!" in response to Kim's speech. But details about his North Korea policy have yet to be released.

The INSS said that the North's leader is likely to purge government and military officials on a large scale this year as Kim's rare self-criticism expressed in his speech is a deceptive way to pass the buck to his subordinates for policy mishaps.

The North's leader expressed regret over his inability to perform better, which analysts say is an attempt to paint himself as a caring leader.

"He is likely to conduct numerous purges and overhauls that can shift responsibility for poor past performances to bureaucrats this year," the report said.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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