The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Amid the lat­est North Korean mis­sile test that over­flew Ja­pan, U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies re­cently de­tected in­creased ac­tiv­ity at the North’s main un­der­ground nu­clear test­ing fa­cil­ity in the north­east­ern part of the coun­try that sig­nal prepa­ra­tions for a sixth un­der­ground test blast.

U.S. of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with in­tel­li­gence re­ports said the test could come as soon as Sept. 9, coin­cid­ing with the an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the reclu­sive com­mu­nist state.

A U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial told Inside the Ring that North Korea has been con­duct­ing an un­prece­dented level of test­ing since early 2016 and that “we have not seen any­thing in their de­fi­ant pos­ture to sug­gest this has changed.”

“North Korea is ca­pa­ble of test­ing a nu­clear de­vice at any time with lit­tle warn­ing,” the of­fi­cial said. “The United States con­tin­ues to mon­i­tor and as­sess the sit­u­a­tion on the Korean Penin­sula in close co­or­di­na­tion with our re­gional al­lies and part­ners.”

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence data on the test was sup­plied to South Korea’s govern­ment, and press re­ports there said the nu­clear test ap­pears to be set for the com­ing days. Ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials, Py­ongyang was ready to con­duct a nu­clear test in April but post­poned it un­der pres­sure from China.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, as part of its pol­icy of pressuring North Korea, has been step­ping up pres­sure on China to rein in regime leader Kim Jong-un. China ac­counts for some 90 per­cent of North Korea’s in­ter­na­tional trade.

Ev­i­dence of the test prepa­ra­tions are said to in­volve satel­lite im­ages of tech­ni­cians and ve­hi­cle ac­tiv­i­ties, in­di­cat­ing the pos­si­ble place­ment of a war­head or war­heads at two tun­nels at the Pung­gye-ri test­ing site.

Nu­clear tests are con­ducted un­der­ground by plac­ing a de­vice deep inside a tun­nel and con­nect­ing sen­sors to mea­sure the re­sults. North Korea has con­ducted five un­der­ground nu­clear tests, in­clud­ing two last year.

In­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis of the size of the tun­nel holes dug by the North Kore­ans in the re­cent tests sug­gest the regime is mak­ing progress in de­vel­op­ing small nu­clear war­heads ca­pa­ble of be­ing fired on its many types of mis­siles.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­sponded to North Korea’s de­vel­op­ment of both long-range mis­siles and nu­clear weapons with a pol­icy of diplo­matic pres­sure, in­clud­ing the im­po­si­tion of new eco­nomic sanc­tions. Last week, the Trea­sury De­part­ment slapped sanc­tions on 10 com­pa­nies and six peo­ple, in­clud­ing Chi­nese and Rus­sians, for il­licit trade in nu­clear and mis­sile goods to North Korea.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has again made pri­vate ap­peals to the Chi­nese govern­ment to in­ter­vene in seek­ing to head off the lat­est planned test, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials.

On the lat­est provoca­tive test, de­fense of­fi­cials said the mis­sile ap­peared to be an in­ter­me­di­ate-range Hwa­song-12 mis­sile. The Hwa­song-12 is de­scribed by the Na­tional Air and Space In­tel­li­gence Cen­ter as a sin­gle-stage, liq­uid-fu­eled mo­bile mis­sile with a range of more than 3,000 miles.

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