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US girding for possibility of N. Korea taking most provocative military actions in decade near election: NBC

By Yonhap

Published : May 25, 2024 - 10:19

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome outside the city of Tsiolkovsky, about 200 kilometers from the city of Blagoveshchensk in the far eastern Amur region, Russia on Sept. 13, 2023. (AP-Yonhap) Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome outside the city of Tsiolkovsky, about 200 kilometers from the city of Blagoveshchensk in the far eastern Amur region, Russia on Sept. 13, 2023. (AP-Yonhap)

WASHINGTON -- US officials are bracing for North Korea to potentially take its "most provocative" military action in a decade ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, possibly at the urging of Russian President Vladimir Putin, NBC News reported Friday.

Citing six senior US officials, the broadcaster also said that the United States has contingency plans to respond in the event of Pyongyang taking aggressive action in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, or shelling South Korean border islands -- belligerence unseen since 2010.

"We have no doubt that North Korea will be provocative this year. It's just a matter of how escalatory it is," a US intelligence official was quoted by NBC News as saying.

It said that the US officials believe the timing of the North's provocation could be designed to "create turmoil in yet another part of the world," as the presidential race is set to be a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

The prediction on the possible election-year provocations came as Putin is preparing for a visit to Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The relationship between Moscow and Pyongyang has come under international scrutiny as the North has provided Russia with munitions and missiles for use in Ukraine with Pyongyang thought to have received some forms of assistance in return.

US intelligence officials believe Putin is providing the North with nuclear submarine and ballistic missile technology in return for Pyongyang's arms transfers, NBC News said, citing the officials.

"Officials are also concerned that Russia might help North Korea complete the final steps needed to field its first submarine able to launch a nuclear-armed missile," the report said.

Concerns have abounded in Seoul as well over the possibility of Pyongyang's saber-rattling. Some observers highlighted the plausibility of the North conducting high-intensity provocations similar to the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010 or the shelling of the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong in the same year.

The broadcaster cited one senior US official as saying, "We are going to be ready and prepared."

Another official said that Russia might hesitate to encourage the North to take actions designed to create an "October surprise" before the US election, as China, a key partner for Russia, typically does not want regional instability.

Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have been paying close attention to the growing partnership among North Korea, Russia and China due to its security implications on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. (Yonhap)