Photo: KCNA via AFP

South Korea’s unification minister said on Tuesday that North Korea may announce the completion of its nuclear weapons programs next year.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency says the speculation is based on evidence that Pyongyang has accelerated the development of its nuclear arsenal in recent months.

Minister Cho Myoung-gyon made the comment in the context of North Korean efforts to perfect a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is capable of hitting the US mainland.

“North Korea has been developing its nuclear weapons at a faster-than-expected pace. We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a nuclear force within one year,” Cho reportedly told foreign correspondents in Seoul.

He said that next year will be a key year for the regime as North Korea’s government marks the 70th anniversary of its founding in 2018.

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