U.S. think tank: Vehicles detected at North test site

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U.S. think tank: Vehicles detected at North test site

In the latest hint that North Korea might soon carry out a sixth nuclear test, 38 North, a U.S. think tank on North Korean affairs, wrote Saturday that commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicates the presence of four or five vehicles or trailers at the entrance to the North Portal, where Pyongyang previously conducted four nuclear tests.

“If the vehicles are related to test preparations, they could be involved in the installation or instrumentation or even a nuclear device,” said 38 North, based on recent analysis by North Korea experts Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu.

The two specialists, however, refrained from concluding that the signs were definitely linked to a possible nuclear test, saying that the vehicles or trailers “may be there for other purposes as well.”

The analysis came a day after South Korean defense officials confirmed that North Korea appears to have finished preparing for its next nuclear test and is awaiting leader Kim Jong-un’s command.

The comment was in response to a report by U.S. cable channel Fox News, which said Thursday that another nuclear test could come in the “next few days,” or by the end of this month, citing U.S. officials with knowledge of the issue.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said Friday that Washington imposed sanctions on 30 foreign entities and individuals in 10 countries pursuant to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.

North Korea’s Saeng Pil Trading Corporation, six Chinese companies and three Chinese individuals were among 11 entities sanctioned Tuesday for transfers to Iran’s missile program.

An additional 19 entities and individuals were sanctioned for other violations, according to the State Department, as a result of determination that there was “credible information indicating they had transferred to, or acquired from, Iran, North Korea or Syria goods, services, or technology listed on multilateral export control lists; or on U.S. national control lists, or other items that could make a material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction or missile proliferation.”

The second list was undisclosed.

No department or agency of the U.S. government will be allowed to procure or contract for any goods, services, or technology from the designated entities.

The designated entities will also be ineligible for any assistance program of the U.S. government, said the State Department.

In both cases, exceptions can be made to the extent the secretary of state otherwise may determine.

North Korea has yet to mention a sixth nuclear test through its official mouthpiece, Korean Central News Agency, but said Sunday in its usual bombastic rhetoric that it would take “preemptive strikes” and “preemptive special operations” without warning on South Korea and the U.S. in response to their ongoing military drills conducted by U.S. special operations forces.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff responded Sunday that if North Korea was to actually carry out that threat, the military will “firmly punish” the Pyongyang regime, leading to its “self-destruction.”

The beefing up of U.S. special operation forces in the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve drills came after Kim Jong-un said the North was in its “final stage” of test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile, the first of its kind, and pushed through three separate missile tests earlier this year.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr ]
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