North Korea reported to be readying nuke test

NORTH Korea is on the verge of conducting an underground nuclear test, according to reports here.

The news comes less than a month after Pyongyang ruffled the world’s feathers by testing seven missiles.

A nuclear test would be “extremely provocative”, the White House said on Thursday, without confirming the media reports.

Observers here believe that any such move could further complicate diplomatic efforts by the Bush administration to revive the stalled six-party talks and embolden hardliners to push for sanctions or force against North Korea.

ABC News quoted an unidentified senior military official as saying that a US intelligence agency had observed “suspicious vehicle movement” at a test site in the north-east of the country.

Reels of cable were being unloaded outside an underground facility, it said. The cables could be used to link an underground test site to remote monitoring equipment.

ABC suggested the White House had knowledge of the exercise.

The report drew guarded responses from North Korea’s neighbours.

Government officials in South Korea, Japan and China said they were aware of the report but said they had no clear evidence of a nuclear test in the works. The situation was being closely monitored, they added.

In Tokyo, visting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi promised he would press North Korea to give up weapons of mass destruction, following the example of his own country, a statement from Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Pyongyang had declared itself a nuclear powerin February last year without having carried out a test. No one is certain if it has a nuclear bomb but experts believe North Korea has enough plutonium for at least six to 10 nuclear weapons.

Analysts here said North Korea is engaging in a dangerous game of brinkmanship to force Washington to the diplomatic table – on its terms.

Harvard professor Joseph Nye, a former senior Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, believed that the missile tests last month had been aimed at getting an attractive package of incentives, like the one the major powers were giving Iran, to give up its nuclear programme.

“It also acted because taking such risks has proven successful in the past, and here, Kim Jong Il probably believed the risks were low,” he noted.

East Asia expert Ted Carpenter of the Washington-based Cato Institute said that while one could not rule out North Korea wanted to demonstrate it had nuclear weapons, there was also the “possibility that it might just be a bluff”.

“The ultimate objective would be to extract concessions from the US,” he said.

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