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North Korea May Time Nuclear Test With Obama Visit, South Says

South Korean protesters shout slogans during an anti-North Korea rally last month in Seoul. The South Korean defense ministry on Tuesday said it had detected numerous signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a possible fourth nuclear test. South Korean protesters shout slogans during an anti-North Korea rally last month in Seoul. The South Korean defense ministry on Tuesday said it had detected numerous signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a possible fourth nuclear test. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Pyongyang appears to be readying a nuclear test that may be carried out when President Obama visits the region later this week, South Korea says.

"Our military is currently detecting a lot of activity in and around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site," South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying to reporters on Tuesday.

The spokesman noted the North could be just preparing a ruse to heighten tensions in the build-up to Obama's two-day visit to South Korea, which begins on Friday.

"We are thinking of possibilities that the North may stage a surprise nuclear test or just pretend to stage a nuclear test," Kim said.

Seoul and Washington have stepped up their joint monitoring and intelligence-collection efforts in anticipation of a potential fourth atomic blast from Pyongyang, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The South Korean armed forces on Monday mobilized an elite task force to manage fallout from the potential nuclear provocation, Kim said.

An unidentified government official told the Yonhap News Agency that North Korean personnel had erected a large barrier to cover the opening of a tunnel at the test site, likely in order to shield its activities from surveillance satellites. Pyongyang took similar steps shortly before it conducted its third underground atomic blast in February 2013.

The official said there had been a marked increase in the amount of vehicle trips around Punggye-ri, likely in order to shuttle communications equipment and machines to gather seismic-wave data following a blast. However, one of the last steps before a test takes place -- the closing off of the tunnel entrance with dirt or concrete -- has not yet been seen, according to the government source.

Lee Byong-chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation, said Pyongyang was trying to get "attention ahead of Obama's visit."

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Tuesday said it would be "a game changer" if Pyongyang carries out its threatened nuclear test, Yonhap reported.

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