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(News Focus) N. Korea ramps up threat of another nuclear test
By Lee Joon-seung
SEOUL, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's provocative decision to give up denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and build up its deterrence capabilities in response to fresh U.N. sanctions is causing speculation of another atomic weapons test by the North, diplomatic watchers forecast Wednesday.

   The communist country made the announcement just hours after the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) condemned the country's Dec. 12 rocket launch. North Korean watchers in Seoul speculated that Pyongyang may move to conduct another nuclear test to show its defiance as well as its ability to deal a serious blow to its adversaries.

   In a foreign ministry statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North stressed there will be no further discussion about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

   "The resolution is the product of blind pursuance of hostile policy of the U.S. seeking disarmament of the DPRK and collapse of the North's system in violation of universally accepted international law," the North's ministry said. It said because of such developments, the six-party talks and other reconciliatory statements made in the past have become null and void.

   The DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

   The ministry claimed "the UNSC resolution is a wanton violation of the inviolable sovereignty of the DPRK," and aims to ban peaceful launching of satellite-carrying rockets into space. Pyongyang claimed the 15-nation Security Council is a marionette of the United States.

   The resolution, which condemned the "ballistic missile technology" test, is the fifth to be slapped on the North for its rocket and nuclear programs since May 1993. It calls for the tightening of existing sanctions, like imposing travel bans on four individuals and freezing assets belonging to North Korea's space agency, a bank and four trading companies accused of engaging in arms shipments. It also banned technology developments and the transfer of money that supports such operations.

  

Unha-3 rocket (Yonhap file photo)


The North has consistently argued that the Unha-3 rocket was designed to carry the Kwangmyongsong 3-2 into orbit. This view has been refuted by many countries, including the United States, which said the launch is a "cover up" to test banned ballistic missile technology.

   The KNCA report also said the country will "take physical actions to strengthen self-defense military capabilities including nuclear deterrence," adding that measures can be taken to completely eliminate the source of hostile action and that the North is fully committed to taking a firm stance.
These remarks can be interpreted as a sign that the country may detonate another nuclear device that possibly uses highly-enriched uranium as its fissile material.

   Related to the belligerent stance taken by the North, Seoul's Unification Ministry expressed its regrets and called on Pyongyang not to engage in further provocation that runs counter to the wishes of the international community.

   "The country must immediately discontinue development of nuclear weapons and long-range rockets," said an official. The official made clear that the country should take steps to follow through on the denuclearization efforts it pledged in the past.

   Other policymakers said that while there are no clear hints that the North is preparing for another nuclear test, intelligence showed that the country could take such as step if it opted to do so. Government and military officials said they are closely monitoring shafts at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyeong Province for any signs of activity.

   Worries about another detonation are credible because in the past, rocket launches by the country were invariably followed by nuclear tests. The country launched a long-range rocket in July 2006 and tested its first nuclear device Oct. 9. In April 2009, it sent up another rocket that was condemned by the international community, but it detonated its second nuke on May 25.

   Regarding the impact of such a move, Hong Hyun-ik, director of securities strategy studies at Sejong Institute, said that the North's hinting of a third nuclear test could seriously disrupt conditions on the Korean Peninsula, which are currently in a transitional period. The leadership of South Korea, China, Japan have changed, while in the United States Barack Obama is beginning his second term in office.

   On the other hand, some civilian experts said there is a chance that the North may not conduct a nuke test, and pointed out that the response shown by the communist country was already expected.

   "What is important is what actions are taken by the North," said Yun Duk-min, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

   Those who do not believe that the North will take drastic measures said there is a chance the country will first wait and see what independent sanction measures are taken by countries such as South Korea and the United States.

   "It makes sense for them to see what tough actions are taken beyond the United Nations sanctions since if they respond hastily, they can make it impossible for negotiations to take place with the incoming Park Geun-hye administration and Washington," said an expert, who declined to be identified.

   He pointed out that because Pyongyang already conducted two nuke tests, another test may not cause shock among the international community at large.

   Park, who takes office as the country's first female president on Feb. 25, said she is willing to negotiate with the North and build trust between the two sides that could help end Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and fuel inter-Korean cooperation.

   The conservative president-elect, however, has made clear that she will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea and warned that Seoul will respond firmly to any future provocations. This may be an indication that unless Pyongyang shows clear signs of ending its "rogue" behavior, relations may remain chilly between the two countries who have technically been at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire.

   yonngong@yna.co.kr
(END)
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