Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
North Korea Has Placed Nuclear Device in Tunnel: South
North Korea appears to have placed an atomic device inside the new tunnel excavated at the country's nuclear test site, which means a detonation could be imminent, the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Thursday (see GSN, May 23).
"Based on the sand piles from the commercial satellites, we are assuming that they have put necessary devices for a nuclear test inside the shaft" at the Punggye-ri site, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok was quoted by CNN as telling reporters. "This means they can conduct a nuclear test any time."
While the North is technically ready to carry out its third atomic test, a "political decision" has not yet been reached on whether to proceed with the detonation, Kim said.
Pyongyang could be expected to face new penalties by the U.N. Security Council should it carry out a new atomic blast. The isolated country is already under heightened sanctions as punishment for its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said there was not a plan to conduct a nuclear test even though an anonymous spokesman warned "if the U.S. persists in its moves to ratchet up sanctions and pressure upon us despite our peace-loving efforts, we will be left with no option but to take countermeasures for self-defense" (K.J. Kwon, CNN, May 24).
Seoul on Thursday threatened Pyongyang with "grave consequences" and fresh economic penalties should it proceed with another atomic test, which could be expected to bring North Korea closer to wielding a credible nuclear deterrent, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
"If North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test, it will be a clear breach of the April 19 presidential statement by the U.N. Security Council and therefore the Security Council will have to take new actions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said (see GSN, April 16; Yonhap News Agency I, May 24).
U.S. special envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies in Japan said the Stalinist regime would be better served using its limited resources to provide badly needed food for its people instead of "prestige projects ... such as launching missiles," Agence France-Presse reported.
The U.S. diplomat said he did not have any "particular wisdom" on whether another missile launch or nuclear test was forthcoming.
"We hope they don't, and we're listening to what they say," Davies said. "And we will certainly have to wait to see what direction they go in and draw the conclusions and take necessary steps if they do miscalculate again" (Agence France-Presse/Sunday Times, May 24).
Davies spoke this week with senior Chinese government officials in Beijing. Following the meeting, the special envoy said he was not taking off the table new U.S. food assistance to the North, the Australian newspaper reported.
Under the now-abandoned February Leap Day deal, Washington agreed to provide Pyongyang a certain amount of nutritional assistance in exchange for its commitment to refrain from conducting new long-range missile and nuclear tests and to cease enriching uranium. However, the Obama administration called off the planned food aid as punishment for the North's April rocket launch and Pyongyang responded by pulling out of the bilateral deal entirely.
"Should the opportunity present itself, if we can reach a stage where we can once again have faith in the North Koreans' ability to abide by its undertakings and its promises, we would like very much to get back to the provision of nutritional assistance," Davies said (Rick Wallace, The Australian, May 24).
The White House voiced the same conditions on Wednesday for the provision of any food aid to the North, Yonhap reported.
"I think the precondition is that the North Koreans have to demonstrate that they are going to refrain from those types of provocative actions and they are serious about moving in a different direction," National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said to international journalists.
Though he underlined that the Obama administration is still open to two-way or multinational discussions with North Korea, he also voiced disbelief that the aspiring nuclear power would alter its behavior. "We haven't seen that indication yet. Right now [we're] not optimistic that there will be any imminent breakthrough that could lead to the provision of additional assistance" (Lee Chi-dong, Yonhap News Agency II/Korea Times, May 24).
Davies on Thursday met in Tokyo with Japan's top nuclear negotiator, Shinsuke Sugiyama, for discussions on North Korea. Ahead of the meeting, the U.S. diplomat was anticipated to brief Sugiyama on what transpired during his earlier talks with Beijing officials, Kyodo News reported.
China is North Korea's largest economic benefactor and principal ally. The United States, Japan and others believe China is the only country that can influence Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear plans (Kyodo News/Mainichi Daily News, May 24).
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to focus on the North Korean nuclear impasse when he meets with his Australian, South Korean, and Japanese equivalents on the margins of the forthcoming Asian Security Summit in Singapore, Jiji Press reported.
The U.S. defense chief is anticipated to share what the United States' recent pivot toward Asia and allied armed forces collaboration will mean in terms of responding to China's growing regional military presence and fears of new North Korean provocations (Jiji Press, May 22).
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