North's ruling party holds meeting, but clues on nuke test are few
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attended a key meeting of the ruling Workers' Party on Wednesday, state media reported on Thursday, amid rising speculation that the country could carry out a nuclear test.
The state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Thursday that Kim presided over the fifth plenary session of the Workers’ Party eighth Central Committee.
“[The plenary session] initiated an agenda discussion amid high political enthusiasm of all the participants, who are fully aware of their important duty in the historic struggle for prosperity and development of our great country and the people's wellbeing,” the KCNA said.
KCNA did not offer details of the meeting, such as items on the agenda or the duration of the session.
The agency reported on Wednesday that a meeting would review the country’s main priorities for 2022 and decide on a “series of important issues,” leading outside observers to wonder if the session would give clues about the timing of a potential nuclear weapons test by the regime.
The announcement of the plenary session came amid widespread fears of a seventh such test.
The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, told the agency's Board of Governors on Monday in Vienna that one of the tunnel entrances at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, located in North Korea's remote mountainous North Hamgyong Province, has been reopened ahead of a potential nuclear test.
All of the North's six previous tests took place underground at Punggye-ri.
The nuclear watchdog chief's report follows satellite imagery analysis of Punggye-ri and assessments by South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials in recent months that have concluded the North is nearing the end of preparations to conduct a test.
In advance of a nuclear test in 2017, the Workers’ Party Politburo held a presidium session and adopted an agenda that included a hydrogen bomb test.
North Korea has also conducted 18 missile tests so far this year.
The United Nations Security Council on May 26 failed to pass a new batch of sanctions proposed by the United States to punish North Korea for the tests, which are banned under previous Security Council resolutions.
The proposal was backed by 13 Security Council member states but opposed by permanent members China and Russia, who defended their votes on Wednesday under new rules requiring the General Assembly to examine any veto wielded in the Security Council.
China’s Ambassador Zhang Jun accused the United States of ignoring positive steps taken by the North, thereby intensifying the regime’s “distrust of the U.S.” and bringing talks “to a complete deadlock.”
This was rebutted by U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who told the assembly that the missile tests by North Korea were “unprovoked.”
De Laurentis said that U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “have repeatedly and publicly said that we seek a dialogue with Pyongyang, without preconditions,” and that message has been passed through other parties, including China.
“The United States is more than prepared to discuss easing sanctions to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]