North tested nuke trigger, says presidential office
North Korea tested a triggering device in preparation for a nuclear test, a presidential official said Wednesday, as the United Nations Security Council is set to meet Thursday in New York to vote on U.S.-led fresh sanctions on the country.
“Operational tests of a nuclear detonation device in preparation for a seventh nuclear test at Punggye-ri have been detected,” said Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the National Security Office, at a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.
“The possibility of an imminent nuclear test in the next day or two is low, but after that, there is certainly a possibility.”
Kim added that tests of the device took place in a different location than Punggye-ri, a remote mountainous area in North Hamgyong Province that was the site of all six North Korean nuclear tests to date. The last test took place in 2017.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials issued multiple warnings in the past few weeks that the North was gearing up for another nuclear test.
Beyond Parallel, a North Korea analysis portal operated by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), reached the same conclusion through analysis of satellite imagery of a tunnel being restored at the underground nuclear testing facility at Punggye-ri, which was demolished before media spectators in 2018.
In its latest report published on May 17, Beyond Parallel cautioned that while an end to the work at the tunnel, which has been going on for three months, would suggest that preparation for a nuclear test is complete, “timing of this test rests solely within the hands of Kim Jong-un,” North Korea’s leader.
The Blue House appeared to agree with Beyond Parallel’s view on the timing of a future test, with Kim telling reporters, “It’s likely the North Korean leader has not decided himself.” He added that North Korean authorities “are imminently near the final preparation stage for a nuclear test of a scale and quality they want.”
The South Korean government informed reporters about the North’s test of a nuclear detonation device the same day that the regime fired three missiles, including one suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), from the Sunan area near Pyongyang.
North Korean state media has remained silent on those tests, in contrast to its usual custom of releasing a report a day after.
Wednesday’s missile tests, which were the regime’s 17th this year, prompted the South Korean National Security Council (NSC) to issue a strongly-worded condemnation following a morning meeting presided over by President Yoon Suk-yeol.
“It is an illegal act that directly violates United Nations Security Council's resolutions and a serious provocation that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” the NSC statement said.
“North Korea's continued provocations will inevitably result in stronger and faster deterrence of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, and will only lead to North Korea's international isolation.”
According to the NSC statement, Yoon directed his administration to work in close cooperation with the United States, relevant countries and the international community to thoroughly implement international sanctions on North Korea.
Yoon also ordered defense officials to maintain the readiness of the South Korean armed forces and to strengthen their joint defense posture alongside the United States military.
In separate consultations on Thursday, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japanese Foreign Vice-Minister Takeo Mori agreed to step up trilateral cooperation in dealing with the North’s missile program, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
Sherman reaffirmed Washington's “ironclad commitment” to ensure the security of its Asian allies, while adding it was ready to engage Pyongyang in “sustained and sincere dialogue,” the State Department said in a statement.
The latest tests prompted the United States to call for new sanctions on North Korea.
The United States, which holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council this month, announced on Wednesday plans for a vote on the new 14-page resolution and sanctions on Pyongyang. The council will meet on Thursday in New York.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations has been working on a draft Security Council resolution for several months, but any new measures are likely to be opposed by other veto-wielding council members China and Russia, who have called for more dialogue instead of new sanctions.
Washington has called on the international community to join its condemnation of the North’s ongoing missile tests, describing them as a threat to the region and the entire world.
“We know that the DPRK’s ongoing provocations pose a threat to the region, pose a threat to all of us,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a press briefing, referring to the North by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
“It’s incumbent on the international community to join us in condemning the DPRK's flagrant and repeated violations of these multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and to uphold their obligations under all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he added.
The North is barred from conducting tests of ballistic missile technology under past Security Council resolutions.
Security Council Resolution 2397, adopted unanimously in 2017, threatened further consequences in the event of another ICBM launch.
“That was a provision of that resolution. That’s precisely what happened and so we feel it’s now time to take action,” a senior U.S. official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
The draft resolution to be presented on Thursday would “further restrict North Korea’s ability to advance its unlawful WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs, it would streamline sanctions implementation and further facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need,” another U.S. official told Reuters.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]