South Korea, US closely watch Pyongyang’s suspicious moves
By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea and the United States are closely watching for any suspicious movement at a North Korean nuclear site amid worries that the communist state is looking to conduct a third nuclear test in defiance of the international community, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Thursday.
However, there has been no definitive indication that the North is preparing for another test following ones in 2006 and 2009, a JCS spokesman said.
“At the moment, we have not noticed any evident signs that would lead us to believe North Korea is preparing to test a nuclear device,” the spokesman told reporters.
Since the North’s last nuclear test in May last year, there has been consistent traffic of people and vehicles around Punggye-ri in the northern county of Gilju, the site of the country’s first nuclear test in October 2006, according to government sources.
“For North Korea, Punggye-ri is a strategic location, and there is bound to be work done for maintenance,” said the spokesman. “South Korea and the United States are keeping a close watch on Punggye-ri and other potential nuclear sites in North Korea.”
Citing a South Korean government source, a local newspaper reported that a U.S. reconnaissance satellite had captured indications of a possible third nuclear test. The report said that it could take about three months to complete preparations.
Pyongyang, under international sanctions for its earlier nuclear and missile tests, in recent weeks has been calling on countries involved in denuclearization talks to restart negotiations. The so-called six-party talks between South and North Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, were last held in December 2008.
Most recently, Kim Gye-gwan, the North’s first vice foreign minister who has been the country’s top nuclear representative, traveled to Beijing, the host of the denuclearization talks. Soon after his trip, the North Korean foreign ministry reiterated Pyongyang’s willingness to return to the six-party table — as long as other participants were willing — and insisted its commitment to abide by previous denuclearization accords.
Efforts to resume the talks lost momentum when Seoul, citing results of a multinational probe, blamed Pyongyang for the March sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. South Korea had preconditioned the resumption of the six-party meetings to an apology by North Korea, which denies any involvement.
South Korea and the U.S. maintain that they’re not interested in reopening the talks only for the sake of talking and have urged North Korea to take concrete steps toward denuclearization, including reinstating international inspectors and declaring a moratorium on its nuclear activities.