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North may be ready for a new nuclear test: NIS

Aug 30,2017
North Korea has apparently completed preparations for another nuclear test at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, according to a National Intelligence Service (NIS) report to the parliamentary intelligence committee on Monday.

Punggye-ri in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, is the location of four of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests.

“Preparations for a nuclear test have been completed at the No. 2 and 3 shafts at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” Democratic Rep. Kim Byung-kee, a member of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, said through a briefing Monday, relaying the findings of the NIS report, “and there has been movement detected that indicates construction work has resumed at the No. 4 shaft since April, after excavation work was halted there last year.”

But in a statement later Monday, the NIS said North Korea “is maintaining a situation where it can conduct a nuclear test,” as opposed to having “completed preparation for a nuclear test.”

It added, “The shafts are being maintained so that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un can conduct a nuclear test with a short period of preparation whenever he makes a decision.”

The top spy agency, led by NIS Director Suh Hoon, gave a closed-door parliamentary briefing on Monday. The NIS was said it was preparing for the possibility of additional North Korean provocations during the ongoing Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint exercises, as well as around Sept. 9, the Day of the Foundation of North Korea, according to Kim. The North conducted another ballistic missile test Tuesday.

North Korea was said to be on top alert during the UFG joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, which kicked of on Aug. 21 and runs to Friday.

Kim also said there have been activities detected related to North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 missiles. He said there continues to be inspection activities of the North’s Sinpo-cass submarine at its Sinpo South Shipyard since late July, as well as active vehicular traffic detected at missile related facilities.

“Between July and August, Kim Jong-un had a total of 14 public activities,” said Rep. Yi Wan-young, a lawmaker of the opposition Liberty Korea Party and a member of the intelligence committee, “which is down from 29 during the same period the year before. He sees concentrating on missile activities as the ultimate gateway to reestablish a relationship with the United States, and is holding an indirect protest with its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development, according to NIS analysis.”

The North launched two ICBMs in July.

BY KIM HYOUNG-GU AND YOO SUNG-WOON [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]