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North Korea Claims No Imminent Plans for Nuclear Test

North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site, shown in an April satellite image. Pyongyang on Saturday said it had no immediate plans to carry out a new nuclear test detonation, despite indications of significant recent activity at the installation (AP Photo/GeoEye). North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site, shown in an April satellite image. Pyongyang on Saturday said it had no immediate plans to carry out a new nuclear test detonation, despite indications of significant recent activity at the installation (AP Photo/GeoEye).

North Korea on Saturday insisted it had no imminent plans to detonate a nuclear device and accused the South of trying to instigate a provocation, Bloomberg reported (see GSN, June 8).

Seoul "seeks to rattle the nerves of the D.P.R.K. in a bid to cause it to conduct a nuclear test, though such a thing is not under plan at present," a Foreign Ministry official said in a message reported by the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency.

Satellite images taken in recent months of the North's Punggye-ri test site show a great deal of activity around what is understood to be a new tunnel that would presumably be used in any underground atomic detonation. Pyongyang previously detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009. The United States and South Korea are concerned the North might decide to carry out a new nuclear test in order to rebuild its military reputation following a failed April attempt to send a long-range rocket into space.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said his government did not have a response to North Korea's latest assertion. The Stalinist state must "show its sincerity through dialogue and positive actions, not provocations," Kim said.

White noting Pyongyang's message, the U.S. State Department said it still had no plan to send food assistance to North Korea. A bilateral February deal called for North Korea to receive 240,000 metric tons of U.S. nutritional aid in return for halting uranium enrichment and other atomic operations and accepting a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests. The bilateral accord fell through after the North's rocket launch, which Washington viewed as a long-range ballistic missile test.

"We want to assist the North Korean people, including by providing nutritional assistance, but we cannot do so when we no longer have confidence that the D.P.R.K. will follow through on its implementation commitments to ensure that nutritional assistance reaches those in need," State Department East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau spokeswoman Darragh Paradiso said in provided comments.

North Korea's claim that it does not have plans to detonate a nuclear device could be a ruse to draw the international community into complacency, Georgetown University analyst David Maxwell said.  

Brookings Institution senior fellow Jonathan Pollack speculated the North could be attempting to shape South Korean voters' views ahead of December's presidential election so they would be more likely to elect  someone whose platform calls for friendlier relations with the North. "That's a political calculation they may be making," Pollack said to Bloomberg.

"There's been a very hedged quality in what North Korea has been saying for a while now," the analyst said. "It doesn't mean they're going to preclude a test."

By saying it has no agenda "at present" to detonate a nuclear device, the aspiring nuclear power leaves itself substantive "wiggle room," he continued (Yoon/Lerman, Bloomberg, June 10).

In a statement released last month, North Korea simultaneously said a nuclear test was not in the works and that it would continue to develop and improve its nuclear weapons program, the Yonhap News Agency noted (Yonhap News Agency, June 10).

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