The United States' top envoy for East Asia affairs warned North Korea, Wednesday, against further provocations amid concerns Pyongyang could conduct a third nuclear test.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who paid a visit to President-elect Park Geun-hye, told reporters that Washington was "very clear on our position that provocative steps (by the North) are to be discouraged."
Campbell also pledged the Barack Obama administration's "strongest possible support" for the alliance as Park prepares to take power on Feb. 25. He added Washington was "very comfortable" that coordination would be maintained even in light of Park's promise to test engagement with Pyongyang.
The envoy expressed confidence that relations between Korea and Japan, its key allies in the region, would proceed on an "upward trajectory" amid tension between the sides over the Seoul-controlled Dokdo Islets, which Tokyo also claims. He was slated to depart for Japan later in the day.
The visit came amid heightened tensions over the North's nuclear program following its Dec. 12 long-range rocket launch. Analysts said the move was a significant step toward achieving intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
Seoul and Washington are seeking to punish Pyongyang for the act, which they saw as a cover for a missile test, at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). But reports say reluctance by Beijing to impose new sanctions on its isolated neighbor may be holding up the process.
Campbell indicated the "intense deliberations" at the UNSC could wrap up soon, saying he anticipated a "formal step in the immediate future."
But concerns are high over a possible third nuclear test after satellite imagery showed preparations for the move made at the North's nuclear test site. North Korean officials have alerted their Chinese counterparts over the possible move, South Korean reports said. The reports were later cited by Chinese media.
Analysts say the North could carry out the nuclear test in a bid to embarrass the outgoing Lee Myung-bak administration and try to mend ties with Park, who pledged a more moderate line on Pyongyang during the presidential campaign.
They say a third test runs the risk of Pyongyang successfully achieving a significant yield, confirming that it has mastered some aspects of nuclear weapons technology. The North, which dropped out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, wants to be seen as a nuclear state.
On Monday, the North vowed through its state media that it would strengthen its "deterrence against all forms of war." Some analysts say there is a chance the Kim Jong-un regime could use UNSC actions as a pretext for a test.