North Korea is stepping up preparations for military parade that could come as soon as next week, ratcheting up tensions after a January barrage of missile tests forced Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal back on the Biden administration’s agenda.
Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s parade training ground taken last weekend showed several hundred personnel in formation, likely signaling a forthcoming celebration, U.S.-based specialist service 38 North reported. In a separate report from NK News, information from satellite imagery and informed sources on the ground in Pyongyang indicated plans to hold a parade for one or more upcoming holidays.
Two big events on the North Korean calendar are the Feb. 16 holiday for what would have been the 80th birthday of former leader Kim Jong Il, and the April 15 holiday to mark what would have been the 110th birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung.
Kim Jong Un—the son and grandson of the two former leaders—has used parades to show off the state’s missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons to the U.S. mainland and America’s allies in Asia. The lack of vehicle activity at the training ground indicates that if there’s a parade next week, he likely won’t be rolling out any major weaponry then, the two reports said.
But the event where soldiers march through central Pyongyang would be used to rally support at home, where the state is battling one of its worst food shortages in years. It would come after the foreign ministers from the U.S., South Korea and Japan meet this weekend in Hawaii to discuss a record monthly barrage of missile tests in January under the North Korean leader of nuclear-capable rockets designed to evade U.S.-operated interceptors.
Martyn Williams, a fellow at the Stimson Center who co-authored the 38 North article, said a parade next week for the Kim Jong Il holiday is possible.
“North Korea does do big parades that consist mostly of people marching. They don’t get as much publicity, but this could be one of those,” he said. “If I was to guess between the two, I’d say the April 15 holiday for Kim Il Sung is more likely to see a major parade.”
So far the Biden administration hasn’t budged to North Korea’s demands that it ease up on sanctions choking its economy. While Washington has said the door is open for Kim to return to nuclear disarmament talks stalled for about three years, publicly it has offered nothing new to entice him back to negotiations.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in believes President Joe Biden and Kim Jong Un will meet eventually to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday, citing a joint written interview.
Kim hasn’t shown interest in returning to talks with the U.S. while Biden hasn’t indicated his inclination for a meeting with the North Korean leader. Kim met former President Donald Trump three times, but their talks didn’t lead to any concrete steps to wind down North Korea’s nuclear arsenal — which grew in strength while their discussions sputtered.
North Korea has held off on missiles tests while its neighbor and biggest benefactor China host the Beijing Olympics.
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