Seoul sees signs of 4th nuke test in North Korea

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Seoul sees signs of 4th nuke test in North Korea

Following U.S. media reports suggesting North Korea was preparing for a fourth nuclear weapons test, a Seoul official said South Korea has noticed similar signs.

“Right before the three earlier tests, North Korea put a tarp over a nuclear test site,” a South Korean government official said. “Under the tarp, they were assumed to work on shutting the entrance of a tunnel.”

CNN reported on Monday that a U.S. spy satellite spotted a tarp over the entrance to a tunnel at the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, Kilju County, in the northeastern tip of the country, over the weekend. It cited an unnamed senior U.S. official.

Analysts in Seoul say that putting a tarp across the tunnel’s entrance was regarded as one of the final preparations for a nuclear test, and it was done before each of the previous three tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. When all the preparations are complete, workers clear away equipment from the entrance and evacuate the site.

On April 22, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense told reporters that officials in Seoul and Washington were “tipped off that North Korea will do something big within this month,” based on their shared intelligence.

Another South Korean official said the regime seemed to be completing the technical preparations and the final step would be Kim Jong-un’s decision to press the button.

“A North Korean nuclear test has the political purpose of raising tensions with neighboring countries and the United States,” the official said. “They are testing the waters to figure out the right timing for the test while closely watching the situation in South Korea, where the public was in mourning over the capsized Sewol ferry.”

If the fourth nuclear test happens, South Korea will be in charge of leading discussions on whether to impose further sanctions against the regime. It assumed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council in May.

When North Korea carried out its third test in February 2013, South Korea also held the Security Council presidency. Kim Sung-hwan, then-South Korean foreign minister, held an emergency session to discuss measures, resulting in sanctions laid out in Resolution No. 2094.

Yun Byung-se, the current foreign minister, is now in New York to act as the rotating president of the council. Before his departure, he told reporters that if North Korea “shows any further provocations, the UNSC members would respond to them swiftly.”

On March 30, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that it will conduct “a new form of nuclear test,” implying a fourth underground nuclear test and possibly the first using a uranium-fueled nuclear bomb.

The first two tests in 2006 and 2009 were confirmed by specialists as plutonium bombs. The type used in the February 2013 test has not been confirmed.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]



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