An official with South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Seoul and Washington were on high alert following a US media report that North Korea might be preparing for an underground nuclear bomb test.
ABC News on Thursday night quoted a senior US military official as saying a US intelligence agency has recently observed suspicious vehicle movement at a suspected North Korean test site.
The activity included the uploading of large reels of cable, which could be used to connect an underground test site to outside observation equipment, near P’unggye-yok, an underground facility in north-east North Korea, according to the ABC News report.
“It is the view of the intelligence community that a test is a real possibility,” a senior State Department official, who was not identified, told the network.
The South Korean foreign ministry official declined to comment on the report on Friday, but said: “Seoul and Washington are closely watching North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities through close collaboration and we are sharing information and evaluation on this.”
The warning came less than two months after North Korea test fired seven missiles on the US Independence Day, triggering wide geopolitical tensions and leaving the world’s largest powers divided on how to respond to the reclusive regime.
Although Pyongyang attracted the world’s attention through the tests, it achieved little in pressing Washington to drop financial sanctions and hold direct talks. Analysts have said this may cause the regime to turn to even more extreme means, such as a nuclear test, to force the international community, and the US in particular, into negotiating on its own terms.
Earlier this month, the International Crisis Group warned that Pyongyang might be planning to fire more rockets or even conduct a nuclear test.
North Korea is believed to have the technology to build nuclear weapons and possess enough materials to build five to 10 nuclear bombs, based on the number of spent plutonium fuel rods removed from its Yongbyon reactor.
But it is not clear whether it has actually built a nuclear weapon. North Korea declared in February it had become a nuclear state, without testing.
Pyongyang refused to return to international talks unless the US dropped the financial sanctions imposed last year as part of Washington’s crackdown on suspected counterfeiting and money laundering by Pyongyang.
But the US stance has hardened further since Pyongyang’s missile test in July, with senior officials calling for the reimposition of a full suite of bilateral economic sanctions including a travel ban, a broad trade ban and restrictions on investment and remittances.
The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US have been stalled since November.