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.
At the same time, Washington and Beijing have agreed that a nuclear test by North Korea would lead to its further isolation and set back efforts to restart regional talks on its nuclear disarmament, a US envoy said.
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.
However, it remains difficult to discern North Korea’s true intentions, as a test would be conducted underground.
The analysis was provided on Friday by 38 North, the Web site of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The latest image was taken on Wednesday.
North Korea’s National Defense Commission declared its plans on Thursday after the UN Security Council tightened sanctions in response to last month’s long-range rocket launch.
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 northeast, “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.”
Meanwhile, after talks in Beijing on Friday with senior Chinese officials, US envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies said both sides are opposed to any nuclear test by North Korea and said ridding it of nuclear weapons remains a condition for bringing stability to the region.
“We reached strong consensus that a nuclear test will be troubling and will set back efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Denuclearization is a necessary precondition to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Davies said.
He said that North Korea can choose to test and further isolate itself, or return to disarmament talks that involve South Korea, Japan, Russia, the US and China.
“We judge North Korea by its actions, not its words,” he said.
Davies’ Beijing talks come amid visits to South Korea and Japan to discuss what to do about North Korea.