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 Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il Is About To Have Another Go at Nuclear Testing

  Read here full article by CHOE SANG-HUN and JOHN O’NEIL

North Korea may be preparing for a second nuclear test, South Korean and Japanese officials said today, as the Communist state threatened “merciless blows” against any country imposing the sanctions just adopted by the United Nations Security Council.

A spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry called the sanctions a “declaration of war” and said that the regime in Pyongyang was more confident in its ability to deter attacks now that it had joined the nuclear club.

American officials on Monday confirmed for the first time that North Korea did set off a nuclear explosion on Oct. 9, as it claimed, and that the blast was far smaller than would normally be expected, suggesting that the test may have misfired.

That could give North Korea two motives for a second test, nuclear scientists and security analysts said: To proclaim defiance of the sanctions and to show that it is capable of a successful nuclear detonation.

In Seoul, a senior South Korean government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said today that there were indications — though not definite evidence — that a second test was being prepared.

There are certain signs that prompted our authorities to cast a very sensitive eye on the matter,” the official said.

In Tokyo, the Japanese foreign minister, Taro Aso, made a similar statement. “We have received such information, but I cannot tell you the details,” he said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said today that a second test would be no surprise.

The North Koreans have made no secret of their desire to be provocative,” he told reporters, according to news service accounts.

The first test, while nuclear, did have a low yield, and perhaps it would not be unreasonable to expect that the North Koreans would like to try something again.”

France today responded to word of possible test preparations by warning the regime in Pyongyang that a second blast could lead to “further measures” by the Security Council.

A new test would constitute an act of extraordinary responsibility,” said Jean-Baptiste Mattei, the foreign ministry spokesman, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Monday, the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said that Washington was watching for indications of a possible test. “I think it goes to say that that would further deepen the isolation of North Korea, and I hope they would not take such a provocative act,” she said.
Ms. Rice is scheduled to leave Washington today on a trip to Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Moscow for consultations on enforcing the U.N. sanctions, which were approved by the council over the weekend.

Nuclear experts said today that the analysis of atmospheric samples taken after the test shed new light on the factors that could lead to a second demonstration. American officials who reviewed the results of atmospheric sampling said on Monday that the material used for the test appeared to have been plutonium harvested from North Korea’s small nuclear reactor.

Because the material came from the reactor, which operated under international inspection between 1994 and 2003, and not from a uranium-enrichment program that North Korea began in secret, nuclear experts said that it was easier to gauge how much weapons material the North may now have on hand. Most intelligence analysts estimate that the country has enough plutonium for 6 to 10 bombs.

It appears clear that the test fell far short of the kind of blast the North Koreans wanted to get world attention,” said Lee Un Chul, a nuclear scientist at Seoul National University.

There is a high possibility of them conducting a second test after finding out what went wrong. A question is how much plutonium they have left. They can’t use it all up with repeated tests. If a second test is a failure, too, it will be a huge humiliation for them.”

American and South Korean officials gave little weight to the latest bellicose statement from North Korea, which was released today by the regime’s official news agency, KCNA.

The D.P.R.K. had remained unfazed in any storm and stress in the past when it had no nuclear weapons,” the statement said, referring to the country by the initials odf its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “It is quite nonsensical to expect the D.P.R.K. to yield to the pressure and threat of someone at this time when it has become a nuclear weapons state.”

The statement, issued by a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said the Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against the North was tantamount to “a declaration of war,” and it promised that the regime “will deliver merciless blows without hesitation to whoever tries to breach our sovereignty and right to survive under the excuse of carrying out the U.N. Security Council resolution.”

In Seoul, South Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, Chun Yung-Woo, said the statement had “no surprises,” and was just “the usual rhetoric that they have been using,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The American envoy handling the North Korea situation, Christopher Hill, also said the statement contained nothing new.

Mr. Hill arrived in Seoul today for a meeting with Mr. Chun and with their Russian counterpart in preparation for Ms. Rice’s visit.

Speaking of last week’s test, Mr. Hill said that Washington and its allies will work hard “to really make it clear that North Korea will pay a very, very high price for this type of reckless behavior.”

Mr. Hill, who is an assistant secretary of state, said Washington hoped to “harmonize” views with North Korea’s Asian neighbors during her trip.

Whether the North’s three main trade partners — China, South Korea and Japan — can act in concert will determine whether the set of broadly defined sanctions drafted by Washington and adopted by the Security Council on Saturday will be effective.

The senior South Korean official said his government was still reviewing its two major economic projects in the North, a tourism resort and an industrial complex, which provide the North Koreans with millions of dollars a year in hard currency that critics say can be used to finance the North’s weapons programs.

South Korean officials had earlier said that the projects should not be subject to the U.N. sanctions, which call for a ban on financial transactions linked to the North’s weapons programs. But critics note that the North Korean partners in the projects are state agencies and that Southern businesses operating in the industrial complex pay their workers’ wages to the North Korean government, not directly to the workers.

On Monday, China — by far North Korea’s largest trading partner — reportedly began searching trucks crossing its border into North Korea, and some of its banks halted transactions with the North. But doubt persists over the gaps between regional powers — most notably between the United States and China — over how vigorously to enforce the sanctions.

After American officials hailed the truck inspections, China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, pointed out to reporters that the step did not mean that Beijing would take the more potentially provocative move of stopping North Korean ships at sea to search them, as the United States has requested.

Inspections, yes, but inspections are different from interception and interdiction,” he said.

Mr. Wang noted that the resolution did not make it mandatory for all nations to inspect cargo. He said states could carry out such an operation as necessary “in accordance with their national legal authorities.”

Some branches of the Bank of China have halted remittances to North Korea, Japanese and South Korean news outlets said today.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, declined to comment today on whether China was tightening restrictions on banking transactions with North Korea.

Ms. Rice said on Monday that she was confident of Chinese help in punishing North Korea.

“I am not concerned that the Chinese are going to turn their backs on their obligations,” she said. “I don’t think they would have voted for a resolution that they did not intend to carry through on.”

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