North Korea May Complete Its Nuclear Weapons Development Program Next Year, South Korean Official Warns

North Korea has been developing its nuclear capability at an unexpectedly fast pace, and a South Korean official warns that it may see its completion by next year.

Cho Myoung Gyon, South Korea's unification minister, told reporters in Seoul that North Korea is developing weapons at a "faster-than-expected pace." Additionally, Cho stated that 2018 is an important year for North Korea, as it marks the 70th anniversary of the country's establishment, Yonhap News reports. The unification ministry is part of the executive department that primarily promotes the reunification of both North and South Korea.

It is believed that Pyongyang is working on around 25 to 60 nuclear weapons, one of which is a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of reaching mainland U.S.

North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, conducted a record number of missile test in 2017. The most recent occurred on September 14, which flew over Japan and is said to be the most powerful nuclear test the regime has done.

The country threatened to conduct another nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean but held back its plans to avoid provoking a lot of nations and affecting shipping and aircraft operations in the area. Since September, North Korea has not fired any weapons, and Cho is hopeful that this hiatus could open opportunities for dialogue between interested parties.

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Kim Jong Un conducted a record number of nuclear and missile tests in 2017. [Image by Eugene Hoshiko/AP Images]

Cho explained that North Korea may have ceased the tests due to practical reasons. For one, winters in North Korea tend to be more hostile, which makes it more difficult to test missiles. The North may also need more time to advance its nuclear and missile programs in order to conduct further tests.

The developments in North Korea's nuclear and missile weapon system pose a particular threat to the U.S. Speaking in front of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly, Ri Jong Jyok, North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly deputy and National Reunification Institute director, stated that the North's nuclear weapons development program "shatters the U.S. ambition to secure its supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region," Newsweek reports. Ri added that the country's nuclear capabilities aims to safeguard peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

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Tension heats up between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. [Image by Ahn Young Joon/AP Images]

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump added North Korea back on the list of sponsors of terrorism, fueling the already unstable and tense situation between the two states. The isolationist country was removed from the list in 2008 by then U.S. President George W. Bush.

Aside from the U.S., other nations such as China, Japan, and the European Union have increased pressure on North Korea to put an end to its nuclear program.

[Featured Image by Lee Jin Man/AP Images]