U.S. military to monitor development of new North Korean missile

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the ballistic rocket launch drill of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army at an unknown location in this undated file

Kim Jong-Un said during his New Year speech that his country is on the verge of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The clarification comes amid escalating tensions between the United States and the North and rising concerns over North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons development.

The US might monitor the North's ICBM test and gather intelligence rather than destroy the missile, as long as the launch did not pose a threat, Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday. "If it's not threatening, we won't necessarily do so", Carter said in his final news briefing before President Barack Obama's administration leaves office on January 20.

"If it's not threatening, we won't necessarily do so".

North Korea has never successfully test-fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, though analysts say it may be capable of doing so within the next five years.

The North's stockpile of plutonium increased substantially in 2016, compared to 88 pounds it had in 2014, according to the defense white paper released Wednesday, Yonhap News Agency reported.

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North Korea deactivated the Yongbyon reactor in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament deal.

In a biannual report, the ministry also estimated that Pyongyang has a significant capacity of producing weapons using enriched uranium.

On the other hand, United States think tank Institute for Science and International Security estimated in June that the North's total nuclear arsenal was more than 21 bombs, up from 10-16 in 2014, based on estimates of plutonium and uranium.

US and South Korean intelligence authorities generally admit that the North has made significant progress in its ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount atop a ballistic missile, but both sides agree that it does not yet appear to be capable of firing one that could reach mainland America.

A ministry official explained that the latest evaluation is based on the timing of the reactivation and stoppage of reactor operations, the scale of spent fuel reprocessing and how much plutonium is consumed at nuclear experiments in the North.

In addition to the nuclear and missile threats, the Defense Ministry listed North Korean cyber and terror attack capabilities for the first time in the report.

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