US intelligence shows there could be a North Korean nuclear test, or a long-range missile test, or both, before, during or after President Joe Biden's trip to South Korea and Japan starting this week, the US national security adviser Jake Sullivan says.
The White House says Biden will not visit the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea during his visit to South Korea, which begins on Friday, having said last week he was considering such a trip.
"Our intelligence does reflect a genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both, in the days leading into, on, or after the president's trip to the region," Sullivan told a White House briefing on Wednesday.
"We are preparing for all contingencies," he said.
Sullivan said the United States was co-ordinating closely with South Korea and Japan and he had also discussed North Korea with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.
Biden's May 20-24 trip will be his first to Asia as president. It will include his first summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office on May 10 and has vowed a harder line against North Korean "provocations".
Sullivan said the United States was prepared to make both short- and longer-term adjustments to its military posture as necessary "to ensure that we are providing both defence and deterrence to our allies in the region and that we're responding to any North Korean provocation".
Earlier, US and South Korean officials said North Korea appeared to be preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), even as it battled a big COVID-19 outbreak.
South Korean Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said such a test could happen as soon as Thursday or Friday.
Kim Tae-hyo said a "Plan B" had been prepared in the event of a small or large North Korean "provocation", which could involve altering the summit schedule.
A weapons test could overshadow Biden's broader trip focus on China, trade, and other regional issues, and underscore the lack of progress in denuclearisation talks with North Korea.
North Korea has conducted repeated missile tests since Biden took office last year and this year resumed launches of ICBMs for the first time since 2017. Washington has urged North Korea to return to dialogue, but to no response.
Australian Associated Press
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