Newly published satellite photographs of a North Korean nuclear testing site suggest the Stalinist state is readying to detonate a third nuclear device, the Korea Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Nov. 16).
"Based on what's been shown in the photos, it is clear that North Korea is preparing for a new experiment. Chances are high that something will happen in the next six months," an expert told the Japanese Sankei Shimbun (Kim Se-jeong, Korea Times, Nov. 17).
Photographs provided by the U.S. firm DigitalGlobe also point to work taking place at the testing site, said Jane's intelligence group image expert Allison Puccioni. An October 16 image of the site shows a minimum of six vehicles or equipment pieces at the facility headquarters, Kyodo News reported.
There are also notable signs of excavation at different locations within the site and of installation of electricity lines or trenches.
"There's no way to tell when a test is going to occur, but there is activity there," Puccioni said. "However, what is happening does bear the need for close watch over the next six to 12 months. We continue to monitor the site and several others as well" (Kyodo News I/Mainichi Daily News, Nov. 18).
Officials in South Korea and other nations have played down other recent indicators that Pyongyang might be readying for a follow-up to its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests (see GSN , Oct. 22).
"It appears to be true that some preparations are under way there, but we're not sure what they are for," one South Korean Foreign Ministry source told the Yonhap News Agency. "We're keeping a close watch" (Chang Jae-soon, Yonhap News Agency I, Nov. 17).
While taking note of the media reports on renewed North Korean nuclear activity, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku today said "there's no situation known at the moment that will influence our country's security" (Kyodo News II, Nov. 18).
Meanwhile, an analysis by the government in Seoul found that South Korea's former "Sunshine Policy" failed to produce desired changes in Pyongyang's behavior, Reuters reported yesterday.
From 1998 to 2008, South Korea provided its poor neighbor with large amounts of aid and increased its diplomatic contact with the Stalinist regime, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry white paper. Despite these rewards, North Korea continued its nuclear weapons work and belligerent actions toward the South.
"The attack on the [South Korean naval vessel] Cheonan proves that despite the qualitative growth in inter-Korea ties, North Korea has not changed," the report asserted. "There are no positive changes to North Korea's position that correspond to the support and cooperation offered by us."
Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who initiated the Sunshine Policy, received the 2000 Nobel Peace Price for his efforts to improve relations between the two Koreas. When conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008, he curtailed economic support to North Korea and has ignored Pyongyang's insistence that assistance be restored.
North Korea must first shutter its nuclear weapons program for the aid to resume, Lee has maintained (Ronald Popeski, Reuters, Nov. 18).
Elsewhere, the U.S. State Department said yesterday it could not justify again listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism as it had no supporting evidence on the matter, Yonhap reported.
"North Korea right now does not meet the statutory criteria to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism," State Department Counterterrorism Office coordinator Daniel Benjamin told journalists.
President Bush removed North Korea from the state sponsor list in 2008 as part of efforts to move the Stalinist state toward denuclearization through now-stalled multilateral talks. The March sinking of the Cheonan, which Washington and Seoul have blamed on Pyongyang, was a breach of the 1953 Korean War truce but does not meet the requirements for relisting, U.S. officials hold.
"At this point, we are still confident we're in the right place on this issue, but if anything changes, we will take immediate action," Benjamin said (Yonhap News Agency II, Nov. 17).
Separately, the United Nations said on Tuesday that sanctions on North Korea are having a considerable impact but have not succeeded in convincing the isolated state to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions.
Pyongyang was penalized with heightened U.N. Security Council sanctions following its second nuclear weapons test in May 2009.
"These measures have significantly constrained the ability of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to market and export arms and other proscribed nuclear and ballistic missile items that had previously provided a significant source of the country’s foreign earnings,"an expert panel convened by the U.N. Security Council stated in a recent report.
Several nations have also added unilateral sanctions to those approved by the Security Council and many private firms and financial institutions have broken off commerce with the Stalinist state, the report notes.
"The adoption and enforcement of these [Security Council] measures [by individual states] reflects a broad international commitment to maintaining the integrity and credibility of the international nonproliferation regime," the report reads.
Despite the strong implementation of the sanctions, there are no signs that Pyongyang plans to give up its nuclear ambitions or cease its development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, the panelists stated (United Nations release, Nov. 16).