U.S. SEES SIGNS OF NORTH KOREAN NUKE TEST
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.