Chances rise of North nuclear test coming any day

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Chances rise of North nuclear test coming any day

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made an important decision to protect the country’s security and sovereignty at a major military meeting, the North’s state-run media reported yesterday.

The announcement appeared to be Pyongyang’s latest attempt to ratchet up tension ahead of a third test of a nuclear weapon. Speculation is high that Pyongyang’s nuclear test is imminent.

The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, reported yesterday that an expanded meeting of the party’s Central Defense Commission was presided over by Kim. While no date of the meeting was made public, the news report said senior members of the commission and top commanders of the military attended.

The report said issues that will bring about a dramatic change to strengthening the North’s military capabilities were discussed. It also said Kim made a speech on his “important conclusion,” which will serve as guidelines for further strengthening the North’s military and defending the nation’s security and sovereignty.

The newspaper said the country was at a “critical juncture that will open a transitional stage to realize Korea’s unification.”

As increased activity detected at the North’s nuclear test site in Punggye-ri suggested that a test is imminent, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak yesterday made an unannounced visit to the situation room in the Blue House bunker.

According to Lee’s spokesman Park Jeong-ha, the president was briefed that the North has completed all technical preparations to carry out the test. While Pyongyang is left with the political judgment of when to press the button, Lee ordered his government and the military to stay vigilant and prepare for the test and its aftermath.

Speculation arose that the test could take place this morning to coincide with the Super Bowl football game in the United States to get maximum media attention.

Other guesses are that the test could coincide with U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Feb. 12 or the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday on Feb. 16.

A military source told the JoongAng Ilbo that there were nine indications analysts look for to predict an imminent nuclear test, including the installment of the radiation detectors, and almost all of them have been witnessed already in the North.

Local media reported that the North covered entrances to two of three tunnels at its underground nuclear test site. When the North conducted its first test in 2006, it erected a cover at the eastern tunnel, but no camouflage was used for its second nuclear test in 2009. As of now, the eastern tunnel is believed to be shut down.

In a move to pressure the North, South Korea and the United States will begin a three-day joint antisubmarine drill today. The U.S. Navy will send a 9,800-ton Aegis destroyer and a 6,900-ton nuclear submarine San Francisco.

It has been 19 years since the American nuclear submarine entered South Korean waters. Its first visit took place in the aftermath of the North’s walking away from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1993.

The drill is taking place in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula. The North’s nuclear test site is also located on its eastern coast.



By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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