North Korea could be almost ready to carry out its threat to conduct a nuclear test, a US research institute said, pointing to recent satellite photos.
The images of the Punggye-ri site where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009 reveal that over the past month roads have been kept clear of snow and that North Koreans may have been sealing the tunnel into a mountainside where a nuclear device would be detonated.
But it remains difficult to discern North Korea’s true intentions as a test would be conducted underground.
The analysis was provided to The Associated Press by 38 North, the website of US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The latest image was taken on Wednesday.
North Korea’s powerful National Defence Commission declared its plans on Thursday after the UN Security Council tightened sanctions in response to a December long-range rocket launch.
It described it as part of a “new phase” of combat with the United States, which retains 28,000 troops in South Korea and which it blames for leading the UN bid to punish Pyongyang.
The North said a nuclear test was part of “upcoming” action but did not say exactly when or where it would take place.
38 North concludes that the Punggye-ri site, in the country’s north east, “appears to continue to be at a state of readiness that would allow the North to move forward with a test in a few weeks or less once the leadership in Pyongyang gives the order”.
South Korean media have cited intelligence officials as saying technical preparations appear complete and the North could be ready to test within days of making a decision to do so.
US officials confirmed that the US has seen some vehicles moving around the site. One official said the US is not ruling out that the test could happen in the near future.
But the officials cautioned that, as in previous tests, because it would be done underground, the US may not know much before it actually happens.
In 2006, North Korea detonated a nuclear device just six days after it announced its plans to do so, and in 2009, 26 days after the announcement. Both tests came weeks after the UN Security Council had condemned it for long-range rocket launches.
“While the test site appears to continue to be at a high state of readiness, it’s anyone’s guess when a detonation might occur. The North Koreans may do it tomorrow, some other day or they may decide to wait until a meaningful date like Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16,” said Joel Wit, a former US State Department official and the editor of 38 North.
Anniversaries related to members of North Korea’s ruling dynasty, such as former leader Kim Jong Il who died in December 2011, are marked with great fanfare in the authoritarian nation.
In its assessment of the preparations at Punggye-ri, 38 North noted that there was considerable snowfall there in November 2012. It said subsequent clearing operations as well as tracks in the snow in the remote area reveal activity at buildings and on roads near the possible test tunnel.
A satellite image taken January 4 shows 30 or more personnel, possibly soldiers or security guards, in formation in the yard of the main administrative buildings at the site.
A December 24 image shows a pile of material in the same yard. Its purpose is uncertain but it could be intended for sealing the tunnel. By the time of Wednesday’s photo, the pile has shrunk, which could indicate operations have begun to seal the tunnel, according to the analysis.
Irish Examiner live news app for smartphones lets you quickly access breaking news, sport, business, entertainment and weather.
Irish Examiner ePaper app gives you the entire newspaper delivered to your phone or tablet for as little as 55c a day.
A man who appeared to provide sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a "fake", the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said.
The troika is leaving Ireland with business unfinished, including changes to the medical and legal service, but they will be pursued through the new EU governance to which all eurozone countries are now subject.
The ECB could be forced to introduce another long- term refinancing operation and drag the deposit rate into a negative territory to cushion the region from another year of sluggish growth and the uncertainty caused by the comprehensive assessment of the banks, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2014 economic outlook.
IT'S one of the most iconic features on the Cork skyline. First established as a monastic site in 606 AD, St Fin Barre's Cathedral now houses a French neo-gothic cathedral designed in 1862 by William Burges of London.
MYTHS are the stories that groups tell themselves: the beautiful lies that allow life go on. This is a week of great myth making. In the death and interment of Nelson Mandela we are witnessing modern myth being made in front of our eyes. But myths can be pernicious and evil — corroding life as well as enhancing it.
Tipperary native Brian Lonergan fulfilled a long-standing ambition when his tricolour appeared on live TV during Sunday's NFL clash between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park.
THE scandal at the Central Remedial Clinic is a gift to the Government. Here we have an organisation seemingly plundering charitable funds, to feather the nests of a group of Fianna Fáil insiders, all of whom can be linked easily to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.