Speculation about NK’s nuclear test growing

Speculation is mounting about another North Korean nuclear test as heightened activity has been detected at the country’s underground nuclear test site.

“Many activities are currently being seen at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” said Kim Min-seok, spokesman of Ministry of National Defense, Tuesday. “The North can launch a sneak nuclear test in a short period of time.”

But the defense ministry also raised the possibility the move might be a strategy by North Korea to “deceive other countries with what appears to be a nuclear test” to gain political advantage.

The comments come as United States President Barack Obama is set to visit South Korea Friday and Saturday as part of his Asia trip, which also includes stops in Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Separate from whether North Korea would actually carry out its fourth nuclear test, experts interpret increased activities at its northeastern Punggye-ri site as Pyongyang trying to gain a diplomatic upper hand ahead of Obama’s Asia trip.

Washington and Seoul have rejected talks on resuming political and economic exchanges with the reclusive regime following the North refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Reflecting its frustration, the North threatened last month to conduct a “new form” of atomic test, which experts say could mean the use of a uranium-based device.

Its previous nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 are believed to have involved the use of plutonium.

On Monday, North Korea’s foreign ministry further warned that Obama’s trip to South Korea could “escalate confrontation and bring the dark clouds of a nuclear arms race.”

Recently, the North has made remarks claiming to be preparing something “unimaginable” for its enemies and “something big” this month, according to the spokesman.

A crisis management task force was set up between the defense ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Monday to prepare for all eventualities, according to defense minstry.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Tuesday warned North Korea against a new nuclear test. “If North Korea goes ahead with another nuclear test as it has publicly warned, it will be a game-changer,” said Yun in his opening speech at a global forum hosted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based private think tank.

“The international community will not tolerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons,” the foreign minister said. “We urge Pyongyang to choose the right path. North Korea is only playing an unwinnable game against the international community.” By Chung Min-uck The korea times

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