With ripples from North Korea’s latest nuclear test continuing to spread throughout the region, speculation surfaced Monday that the communist state may be gearing up to detonate another fission device in defiance of international condemnation.
Friday’s underground explosion as well as the previous three rounds occurred in the second of the three tunnels installed at the North’s Yongbyon nuclear complex in the northwest town of Punggye, leaving the others ready for additional blasts, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. The North’s maiden experiment in 2006 was carried out in the first one.
|A satellite image of Punggye-ri nuclear test site (Yonhap)|
“The South Korean and US intelligence communities assess that North Korea is prepared for further nuclear tests in the Punggye region,” ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-gyun said at a news briefing.
“If (the North) does conduct an additional test, it is possible to take place in a tunnel that branches off from the second tunnel or in the third tunnel, where preparations have been completed.”
Defense Minister Han Min-koo also raised the possibility of another detonation in the remaining channels during a parliamentary session late Friday.
Confirming its fifth test, Pyongyang pledged to “continue measures to qualitatively and quantitatively strengthen the nation’s nuclear forces.”
Emboldened by recent technical progress, the Kim Jong-un regime may push for the fresh launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching US mainland, possibly in time for the Oct. 10 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party or the US presidential election slated for Nov. 8, observers say.
Pyongyang also successfully fired a long-range rocket on Feb. 7, about one month after its fourth atomic test.
“A new ICBM test sounds like one of the doable scenarios,” a diplomatic source said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“The North appears to have been making headway in its nuclear and missile capabilities as shown in recent various tests, which is probably why it did press ahead with them despite warnings from everywhere including China.”
To review the situation and coordinate sanctions, the chief nuclear negotiators of South Korea and the US plan to hold talks in Seoul.
Sung Kim, US special representative for North Korea policy, arrived here late Monday for a two-day stay after visiting Japan last weekend. He is scheduled to have relay meetings including a joint news conference on Tuesday with Kim Hong-kyun, the special representative for the Korean Peninsula’s peace and security affairs at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
The allies are currently spearheading a campaign to craft a fresh batch of stronger sanctions at the UN Security Council, while exploring independent steps to back up the international resolution.
Pyongyang, on its part, dispatched Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to Beijing in an apparent move to appease an angry China, its economic lifeline and top diplomatic sponsor which holds a permanent UNSC membership.
Shortly after the newest provocation, Beijing quickly issued a statement carrying its “resolute opposition” to North Korea’s nuclear development and urging it to comply with the UNSC resolutions.
Ri is reportedly expected to continue traveling to Venezuela for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit before visiting New York for the UN General Assembly later this month.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Source : The Korea Herald