North Korea might be preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test “at any moment,” only days before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Seoul, South Korea said Tuesday.
South Korea cited increased activity at its main test sight, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok. “Our military is currently detecting a lot of activity in and around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” Min-Seok said at a press briefing.
North Korea has conducted 3 previous nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and a recent one in 2013 (photo). All tests were at the Punggye-ri site in the northeast of the country.
Kim cautioned the cited activity may just be a “deception tactic,” to raise tensions before Obama’s visit, due to begin on Friday. However, he did not provide details on the monitored activity, but said the U.S. and South Korean militaries were closely sharing intelligence, and Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff set up a special task force if Pyongyang goes ahead with the test.
There have been large speculations that North Korea may stage a provocation coinciding with Obama’s trip, who is visiting Seoul as part of an Asia tour.
Pyongyang slammed Obama's upcoming trip on Monday as a “dangerous” move that could intensify army tensions and bring “dark clouds of a nuclear arms race” over the Korean peninsula.
Analysts said they were skeptical that North Korea would conduct a test during Obama’s visit to the South.
According to Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, conducting a test now may risk a permanent alienation to China, the North’s only major ally and chief economic benefactor. A nuclear test would also minimize chances of resuming six-country talks, pushed for by China, on North Korea’s nuclear program.
The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea’s latest series of medium-range missile launches, but the country said it would now rule out a “new form” of nuclear tests.
Meanwhile, the United States on Tuesday urged North Korea to comply with its international obligations. “We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from actions that threaten regional security and to comply with its international obligations and commitments,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters.
“The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the defense of its allies and continued to coordinate closely with both South Korea and Japan. The United States is closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula”.