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Sixth nuclear test imminent, says Seoul

Kim Jong-un might even detonate several devices in succession
Mar 30,2017
Another North Korean nuclear test is imminent, with preparations likely to wrap up this week, intelligence authorities in Seoul said Wednesday.

The test, North Korea’s sixth, could be conducted as early as next week

“We have intelligence that North Korea may conduct its sixth nuclear test in the first week of April and are in the process of confirming this,” said a South Korean military intelligence source who requested anonymity. “We have determined that North Korea is expected to finish all preparations for a nuclear test by March 31.”

There were expectations that the North could conduct a nuclear test ahead of the upcoming meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump expected to be held on April 6 and 7 at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

“We are analyzing that there is a high possibility that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test ahead of U.S. President Trump and Chinese President Xi’s summit in the United States,” another intelligence official said.

Pyongyang launched an intermediate-range missile on Feb. 11 to coincide with Trump’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago after their summit at the White House the previous day. It was the North’s first such missile test since the onset of the Trump administration.

Some military officials here speculate that Pyongyang may follow the Pakistan model and conduct multiple tests in the near future, including both plutonium and uranium devices. Pakistan conducted its first five simultaneous underground nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, jointly called Chagai-I, and a second nuclear test two days later on May 30 called Chagai-II.

“This would be in order to officially declare itself a nuclear state and be recognized as one,” a military official said. “North Korea will aim to push the stakes up to the maximum ahead of the U.S.-China leaders’ summit.”

Other possible dates for a provocation by the North that have been raised by analysts include the lead-up to the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday anniversary on April 15. Pyongyang will hold a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly, its rubber-stamp legislature, on April 11.

The North Korea monitoring website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said Tuesday that its latest satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province strongly indicates that nuclear test preparations are in the final stages.

The satellite imagery from March 25 shows the continued presence of three to four vehicles or equipment trailers at the entrance to the North Portal at the Punggye-ri test site, it pointed out, while the texture of the ground at the portal entrance suggests that communications cables may have been laid down there.

This equipment, according to its analysis, “would likely be used to initiate the test, collect data from the explosion and process the data,” while water is being pumped out of the portal and drained downhill, apparently to keep the tunnel dry for monitoring or communications equipment.

“The combination of these factors strongly suggests that test preparations are well underway, including the installation of instrumentation,” it added.

There was no significant activity at the other areas of the test site, it said, aside from several mining carts at the West Portal. This lack of activity “may mean that test preparations are in their final stages,” said 38 North, calling for caution because Pyongyang is aware the world is watching and “is capable of deception.”

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]