With North Korea offering an olive branch to South Korea by proposing to hold talks over sending a delegate to the PyeongChang Olympics, speculation has emerged that North Korea is preparing for another intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
According to the US broadcaster CBS on Tuesday, North Korea appears to be in the early stages of an ICBM launch, with missile activity spotted at the same location north of Pyongyang where North Korea test-fired the ICBM-class ballistic missile Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29.
Citing anonymous military officials, NBC News reported that North Korea's first missile launch of 2018 is possible "in the coming days." One official said that the launch could happen midweek, while another official described the timeline as the "short-term."
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed the report Wednesday, saying there was no immediate sign of another missile launch -- although the test could take place whenever North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un decides.
The report came amid high expectations for a thaw in inter-Korean relations in the run-up to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, as North Korea on Wednesday decided to reopen a suspended inter-Korean communication channel at the truce village of Panmunjom.
The South Korean government has made a proposal to North Korea that it is willing to postpone its annual joint military drills with the US until after the Winter Olympics and the Paralympics on the condition that North Korea suspends its missile and nuclear tests.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the US government was hearing reports about North Korea's potential launch, according to Reuters, though she gave no details of the missile test preparations.
"I hope that doesn't happen. But if it does, we must bring even tougher measures to bear against the North Korean regime," Haley said.
The development came a day after Kim Jong-un's New Year's address, in which he mixed a conciliatory message toward South Korea -- expressing his willingness to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics -- with nuclear threats against the US.