North Korea is "technically ready" to carry out a third underground nuclear detonation, an unidentified high-ranking South Korean government official told the Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday (see GSN, May 22).
Satellite pictures taken as recently as May 9 of the the North's Punggye-ri test site reveal digging equipment as well as what appears to be fresh debris near a third tunnel that would likely be used for a new nuclear test, according to IHS Jane's Asia Pacific
South Korea's Defense Department has identified a great deal of work at the testing site including new mining vehicles, buildings and roads, the government official said.
"North Korea will make a decision on conducting a nuclear test based on its political judgment," the source said.
In choosing whether to carry out a new atomic test, the Stalinist regime is likely to be influenced by "international pressure and sanctions as well as opposition from China and Russia," the official said.
Pyongyang is seen as wanting to rebuild its reputation with a successful atomic detonation following last month's humiliating breakup of the long-range Unha 3 rocket shortly after launch. North Korea previously carried out nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 following unsuccessful rocket firings.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday said the isolated country would pursue "countermeasures for self-defense" should South Korea and the United States maintain their efforts to constrain and punish Pyongyang (Yonhap News Agency I, May 23).
In the report carried by state-controlled media, the North Korean official said, "from the beginning, we did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes," Yonhap reported.
"Several weeks ago, we informed the U.S. side of the fact that we are restraining ourselves in real actions though we are no longer bound to the Feb. 29 D.P.R.K-U.S. agreement, taking the concerns voiced by the U.S. into consideration for the purpose of ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula," the official said.
The now-dead bilateral deal would have obligated North Korea to refrain from any new nuclear or long-range missile tests and to halt a number of other nuclear-weapon related activities in return for U.S. food assistance. The Obama administration called off the food aid as punishment for Pyongyang's April rocket launch and the North responded by withdrawing from the deal (Yonhap News Agency II, May 22).
The Obama administration on Tuesday indicated it was not impressed by North Korea's assurance that it would not detonate another nuclear device, according to Yonhap.
"We're going to be guided not by what they say, but what they do," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said to journalists. She emphasized that Washington no longer trusts Pyongyang to abide by its nuclear disarmament commitments.
Nuland said she did not know what the North Korean Foreign Ministry meant when it specified "countermeasures for self-defense" (Lee Chi-dong, Yonhap News Agency III, May 22).
The North Korean Foreign Ministry's Tuesday statement is typical of the regime's track record of using international fears of a nuclear test or other provocation to strong-arm Washington back into negotiations, the New York Times reported.
"I don’t know that it adds or detracts from what we already know about the North Korean view about what’s happening," U.S. special envoy on North Korea Glyn Davies was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in Beijing, where he was holding talks with the Chinese government (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, May 22).
"It is very important that North Korea not miscalculate again and engage in any future provocation," Davies said to journalists in Seoul on Tuesday. "If they make the right choices, there can be a different future for North Korea."
He added that a fresh atomic detonation, however, would lead to "swift and sure" penalties by the U.N. Security Council, AP reported (Foster Klug, Associated Press/Google News, May 22).
During his meetings with Chinese officials, Davies underlined the importance of financial penalties against Pyongyang, China Daily reported.
The special envoy said the Obama administration is open to re-engaging with North Korea over food assistance if the Stalinist state takes concrete steps to prove it it is trustworthy (Zhou Wa, China Daily, May 23).
Meanwhile, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Wednesday made the unusual move of prioritizing addressing human rights violations in North Korea over resolving the nuclear impasse, Agence France-Presse reported.
"As to the North Korean issue, the human rights issue is no less important than the nuclear tests or missile launches," Lee was quoted as saying to a visiting delegation of U.S. lawmakers.
"The issue of human rights for the North Korean people should rather be dealt with more urgently (than tests or launches)," the president said (Agence France-Presse/Google News, May 23).
North Korea is "technically ready" to carry out a third underground nuclear detonation, an unidentified high-ranking South Korean government official told the Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.