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Concerns Stirred over Possible North Korean Nuclear Tests

Concerns Stirred over Possible North Korean Nuclear Tests

Posted April. 24, 2005 23:42,   


On Friday, diplomats in Washington were on alert as a report came that North Korea was preparing nuclear tests. The U.S. believes North Korea is planning to test a nuclear weapon and has asked China to intervene to block the test, the Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site from Seoul.

According to the article, Washington also warned Beijing that “the North Korean nuclear program [is] advanced enough that a test could come with little or no warning.”

The report raised a sense of anxiety by saying that the message delivered to China was an “emergency demarche.” Similar warnings have reportedly also been conveyed to South Korea and Japan, the Journal added.

The Journal also said, “Spy satellites have observed heightened activity at missile sites as well as at various suspect sites in North Korea, where it is believed underground tests could be carried out,” quoting an U.S. intelligence official.

Even though the official acknowledged that it was difficult to ascertain the true intent of that activity, it certainly aroused suspicion over the alleged nuclear test plan.

In addition, the report came when Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was on visits to meet officials in Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul, which strengthened the suspicion. Hill arrived at Seoul on April 23.

However, one Washington official commented on the Journal’s report that “there is no newly found evidence.” One diplomat in Washington also said that “it is only possible to imagine that North Korea, after declaring its possession of nuclear weapons, would plan nuclear bomb tests for its next step,” adding, “The U.S. sent this message just to express its concern as a precaution.”

Other major American newspapers such as the Washington Post and the LA Times also construed the message as an expression of concern. However, they also added that the recent statements by North Korea are provocative.

In recent weeks, officials in Pyongyang offered to transform the six-party talks into arms reduction talks between North Korea and the U.S. as two members of the nuclear club. It also declared they could export nuclear weapons to terrorists if they chose to, and have said they shut down a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in order to extract the plutonium.

The L.A. Times reported on Saturday that “Washington asked that Beijing would stress the need for the North Koreans to tone down their rhetoric.” It suggested this request and expression of concern was misunderstood as a “nuclear bomb test warning.”

However, the Washington Post reported that one Washington official said North Korea would eventually embark on nuclear tests and that North Korea might have concluded that a nuclear test would be the only way to convince the U.S and the world that it has joined the nuclear club, as the U.S. denied its possession of nuclear bombs.

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com