US officials bracing for imminent North Korea test of intercontinental ballistic missile: report

U.S. military and intelligence officials are reportedly bracing for an imminent test by North Korea of an intercontinental missile as negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang continue to stall.

North Korea has threatened to give the U.S. a “Christmas gift” if no progress is made on lifting sanctions, but officials appear to accept the fact that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE has no options to prevent a test, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The North testing a ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. would mark a major setback for Trump's efforts to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile ambitions, something he has touted as a top foreign policy initiative. It would also come as the president faces major political fallout domestically after the House voted to impeach him this week.

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While the president often cites a lull in such testing by North Korea as evidence of his diplomatic prowess, officials told the Times that should North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnWe should listen to John Bolton Donald Trump: Unrepentant, on the attack and still playing the victim Trump's 'two steps forward, one step backward' strategy with China MORE resume testing, it would mark a sign that the White House is jammed in its options and will be less inclined to lift sanctions.

Military officials told the Times that there are no plans in the works to destroy a missile on the launchpad or intercept it in the atmosphere. The administration is likely to pressure the United Nations Security Council for tightened sanctions in the event of a test, a strategy that for two decades has ultimately failed to blunt Pyongyang’s aggressive rhetoric and progress on its nuclear and missile programs.

In its most recent threat, North Korea said the U.S. could “pay dearly” after it sponsored a U.N. resolution condemning Pyongyang’s “long-standing and ongoing” violations of human rights. 

Trump and Kim have held two official nuclear summits that have thus far yielded little progress. The last one, which took place in Vietnam in February, ended early without an agreement. North Korea has blamed the stalled negotiations on Washington’s “political and military provocations.”

Trump and Kim met for a third time briefly in June at the border between North and South Korea, though a subsequent meeting in October between aides broke down without any progress.

Kim suspended nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests last year during a diplomacy campaign with Washington and Seoul but has threatened Pyongyang could embark on a “new path” if the U.S. maintains sanctions on North Korea, conducting a series of other missile tests this year.