“To date the DPRK has not responded and continues to show no indication it is interested in engaging. Instead we have seen a marked increase in the scope an scale of their ballistic missile tests,” Sung Kim said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that North Korea is “readying their nuclear test site,” and that the situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear program “is quite concerning because we have seen a fast-forward in every line.”
“They are building more facilities to enrich uranium. They are operating their reprocessing plant, which is what takes plutonium out of fuel, which is another way to have more material for more bombs,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told CNN.
Sung Kim also said, as other US officials have, that the US “assess that the DPRK is preparing to conduct a seventh nuclear test.” He added that he did not have any specific information about the exact timing of the possible nuclear test.
North Korea has now launched 31 ballistic missiles in 2022, the most ballistic missiles it has ever launched in a single year, surpassing its previous record of 25 in 2019.
South Korea and the US responded on Monday with eight missile launches of their own, the third time time this year they have staged tit-for-tat missile tests.
The allies sent the jets — South Korean F-35A, F-15K and FK-16 fighters and US F-16s — over the Yellow Sea, known as the West Sea in South Korea, on Tuesday morning following North Korea’s launch of eight short-range ballistic missiles on Sunday.
Despite North Korea’s continued provocations Sung Kim said that the Biden administration is prepared to engage diplomatically with the country without preconditions and has encouraged allies and partners to engage diplomatically with North Korea as well. Sung Kim did not put a deadline on when the Biden administration would turn away from seeking diplomacy.
“On the timeline for our commitment to a diplomatic approach, there is no end date for that. I think we will continue to remain committed to pursuing a viable diplomatic path to pursue the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to address issues of concern to both sides,” Sung Kim said, noting that the Biden administration will also keep sanctions in place.
Brad Lendon and Yoonjung Seo contributed reporting.