By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, March 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea will continue to stage missile tests to develop and advance its missile capabilities but also to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, a U.S. government report said Tuesday.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) also said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un believes his nuclear weapons are the "ultimate guarantor" of his regime and that he will eventually be accepted as a nuclear power over time.
"Kim probably will continue to order missile tests -- including of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), cruise missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and HGVs (hypersonic glide vehicles) -- to validate technical objectives, reinforce deterrence, and normalize Pyongyang's missile testing," the ODNI said in its Annual Threat Assessment report.
"Kim also aims to achieve prestige as a nuclear power as well as strategic dominance over South Korea. Kim probably will continue to try to undermine the U.S.–South Korea alliance by vacillating between periods of escalatory behavior and symbolic gestures toward the South to exploit differences between Washington's and Seoul's approach to solving the Korea problem," added the report.
North Korea staged nine rounds of missile tests since the start of the year, including two test-firings of a hypersonic missile and the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
"Kim is continuing to prioritize efforts to build an increasingly capable missile force designed to evade U.S. and regional missile defenses," said the report.
North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since November 2017.
The report, however, noted Pyongyang has laid the groundwork for a possible intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a nuclear test this year.
Pyongyang said in January that it will consider restarting "all temporarily-suspended activities."
"Kim remains strongly committed to expanding the country's nuclear weapons arsenal and continuing ballistic missile research and development. North Korea's continued development of ICBMs, IRBMs, and SLBMs demonstrates its intention to bolster its nuclear delivery capability," said the report, noting the North flight tested a new SLBM in October.
"Flight tests are part of North Korea's effort to expand the number and type of missile systems capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the entire United States," it added.
Yoon's outreach to Southeast Asia keeps China in the loop
Allies' defense chiefs highlight watertight alliance based on full extended deterrence against N. Korean threats
(News Focus) Police under fire for lax response to emergency calls hours before Itaewon crush
Police under fire for lax response to emergency calls hours before Itaewon crush
Role of administrative authorities questioned in Itaewon disaster