A top US Air Force general said Tuesday that the US is preparing responses just in case North Korea fires a long-range missile amid the stalled peace talks, possibly reigniting the tensions that characterized 2017.
North Korea warned earlier this month that "it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift" it gets, suggesting that failure to meet Pyongyang's expectations could yield undesirable results.
"It's not implausible that they could give the world a Christmas or New Year gift of an ICBM test," Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, previously told Insider.
"What I would expect is some type of long-range ballistic missile would be the gift. It's just a matter of, does it come on Christmas Eve? Does it come on Christmas Day? Does it come in after the new year?" Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the Pacific Air Forces commander, said Tuesday, according to multiple reports.
While there have been a number of short-range tests in recent months, North Korea has not launched a long-range missile since its successful test of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in late November 2017.
"We're watching," Brown added, acknowledging that there are other possibilities. "I think there are a range of things that could occur."
North Korea has given Washington until the end of the year to change the way it negotiates with Pyongyang. It has said that it will pursue a "new path" if the US does not lift its heavy sanctions in return for North Korea's moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing. While the threat remains unclear, North Korea is using language similar to past ICBM tests.
Brown said Tuesday that the US military is dusting off responses should efforts to secure a diplomatic peace between the US and North Korea fail.
"Our job is to backstop the diplomatic efforts. And, if the diplomatic efforts kind of fall apart, we got to be ready," he explained. "Go back to 2017, there's a lot of stuff we did in 2017 that we can dust off pretty quickly and be ready to use."
"We are looking at all of the things we have done in the past," Brown added.
During the "fire and fury" tensions between the US and North Korea that defined 2017, the US routinely flew bombers over the Korean Peninsula as a symbol of support for US allies and as a warning to the North Korean regime.