SOUTH KOREA is closely watching North Korea over the possibility it may launch another intercontinental ballistic missile as soon as Saturday when it celebrates its founding anniversary.
Seoul's Unification Ministry spokeswoman Eugene Lee said on Friday that Pyongyang could potentially conduct its next ICBM tests this weekend or around October 10, another North Korean holiday marking the founding of its ruling party.
However solar storms may disrupt any plans to test missiles.
Eruptions of mass and energy from the sun pose a threat to electronics meaning missiles could lose data or ancillary equipment.
Lance Gatling, an aerospace consultant with Nexial Research in Tokyo, told Bloomberg that this may be enough to stop Kim Jong-un unleashing another intercontinental ballistic missile.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s space weather prediction center, the current solar storm is a G4 level, which is considered severe.
It could affect power systems, spacecraft operations and other systems. It ccould cause Auroras to appear in the sky.
NASA has revealed a 'mid-level solar flare' peaked at 3.49am EDT today.
"This is the sixth sizable flare from the same active region since September 4," NASA said.
The NOAA's space weather prediction center states: "G4 (Severe) geomagnetic storm levels were observed at 2350 UTC (19:50 Eastern) on 07 September, again at 0151 UTC (21:51 Eastern) on 08 September and 1304 UTC (09:04 Eastern) due to effects from a coronal mass ejection.
"A G3 (Strong) or greater warning continues to be in effect until 1500 UTC (11:00 Eastern) on 08 September."
But Gatling said that the US and Japan may wish to see a missile fired in order to test their tracking equipment in a solar storm.
North Korea has previously marked key dates with displays of military power, but now its tests appear to be driven by the need to improve missile capabilities.
The North is just coming off its sixth and the most powerful nuclear test to date in what it claimed was a detonation of a thermonuclear weapon built for its ICBMs.
The country tested its developmental Hwasong-14 ICBMs twice in July and analysts say the flight data from the launches indicate the missiles could cover a broad swath of the continental United States, including major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, when perfected.
North Korea fired the ICBMs at highly lofted angles in July to reduce ranges and avoid other countries. But South Korean officials say the next launches could be conducted at angles close to operational as the North would seek to test whether the warheads survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry and detonate properly.
MISSILE DEFENCE LAUNCHERS ADDED
South Korean President Moon Jae-in says more launchers were added to a contentious high-tech missile defense system because his country faces an unprecedented security threat from North Korea.
Moon also expressed regret over clashes between protesters and police that left dozens injured Thursday when the U.S. military added the four launchers to the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System in rural Seongju.
A THAAD battery normally consists of six launchers that can fire up to 48 interceptor missiles, but only two launchers been operational at the site, on a former golf course.
Local residents worry about rumored health hazards related to the system's high- powered radars and the possibility of being targeted in North Korean attacks.
The U.S. began installing the THAAD system under South Korea's previous government. Moon temporarily halted the installation after taking office to conduct more environmental reviews and ease residents' concerns. Since then, North Korea has launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth nuclear test. Moon said in a statement Friday that those created an unprecedented security threat for South Korea.
RUSSIA SAYS TOO EARLY TO HAVE VOTE ON SANCTIONS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was too early to talk about a vote at the UN Security Council on new North Korea sanctions, insisting any pressure should be balanced against restarting talks.
"Work is currently going on over a new resolution in the Security Council and it is still early to make predictions about its final form," Mr Lavrov said at a news conference with French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.
"Along with pressure on the North Korean regime to induce it to abandon provocations in the implementation of its nuclear and missile programmes, it is necessary to emphasize and increase the priority of efforts to resume the political process," Mr Lavrov said.
The United States has presented a draft UN resolution calling for an oil embargo on North Korea, an assets freeze on leader Kim Jong-Un, a ban on textiles and an end to payments of North Korean guest workers.
TRUMP SAYS MILITARY ACTION AN OPTION
In Washington, President Donald Trump reiterated that military action is "certainly" an option against North Korea, as his administration tentatively concurred with the pariah nation's claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb.
A senior administration official said the US was still assessing last weekend's underground explosion but so far noted nothing inconsistent with Pyongyang's claim.
"Military action would certainly be an option," Mr Trump told a White House news conference. "I would prefer not going the route of the military, but it's something certainly that could happen."
Pressed on whether he could accept a scenario in which the isolated nation had nukes but was "contained and deterred," Mr Trump demurred.
"I don't put my negotiations on the table, unlike past administrations. I don't talk about them. But I can tell you North Korea is behaving badly and it's got to stop," he said.
North Korea broke from its pattern of lofted launches last month when it fired a powerful new intermediate range missile, the Hwasong-12, over northern Japan.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un then called the launch a "meaningful prelude" to containing the US Pacific island territory of Guam and called for his military to conduct more ballistic missile launches targeting the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, Sweden urged its citizens to refrain from unnecessary trips to North Korea.
The announcement by the Swedish Foreign Affairs Ministry came hours after Mexico's government said it declared North Korean Ambassador Kim Hyong Gil as persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country within 72 hours in response to Sunday's nuke test.
The United States has already banned Americans from travelling to North Korea following the death of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student from Ohio who was released from North Korea in June in a coma after being detained there for more than a year.
Sweden has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1973.
The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang also provides consular services for the United States, Australia and Canada.
CHINA'S XI ASKS MACRON FOR HELP
Chinese President Xi Jinping called on France to help ease the situation in North Korea during a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, state media said, days after Pyongyang's largest ever nuclear test.
The conversation came one day after statements from China supporting stronger sanctions against Pyongyang and "necessary measures" at the UN Security Council, where China and France both hold vetoed.
"China hopes that France, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will play a constructive role in easing the situation and restarting dialogue" on North Korea, Mr Xi said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
North Korea triggered global alarm on Sunday with its most powerful nuclear blast to date, claiming to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
During the call, the Chinese leader expressed his desire for the "denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula," which he had also noted during a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel hours earlier.
Mr Macron told Mr Xi that France is willing to strengthen co-operation with China to promote the proper settlement of the nuclear issue.
Mr Macron "reiterated the international community's condemnation of North Korea's provocations," the French president's office told AFP.
"These provocations call on the international community to place new pressure towards the goal of bringing Pyongyang back to negotiations and avoiding dangerous escalations," it said.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had said: "China agrees that the UN Security Council should respond further by taking necessary measures." Earlier, Ms Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader and Mr Xi both agreed to support tougher sanctions against North Korea.
China, which is the North's biggest ally and accounts for 90 per cent of its trade, is seen as key to efforts to convince Pyongyang to abandon its weapons program.
Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are the other veto-wielding permanent members of the security council.
Mr Xi also spoke to Mr Trump over the phone on Wednesday, telling his American counterpart that China remains firm in its wish to resolve the situation through talks leading to a peaceful settlement.
The US has accused North Korea of "begging for war" and pushed for the "strongest possible measures" against Pyongyang.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who held talks with Mr Xi in eastern China during the BRICS summit earlier this week, has repeatedly insisted that further economic pressure on Pyongyang will not work.