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NKorean activities may signal nuclear test preparations: US official

AFP | October 17 2006

Activity detected at potential North Korean test sites could be consistent with preparations for a second nuclear test but not necessarily evidence a test is imminent, a US intelligence official said Tuesday.
The official said North Korea could conduct a test "with little or no warning" but a decision to do so would be "as much political as it is technical," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"How close they may be to pulling the chain or pressing a button is what's not clear," the official said.

The United States and France on Tuesday warned North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test on October 9, not to proceed with a second test. US intelligence confirmed only on Monday that the first test was nuclear.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the guessing game about what North Korea might do next was "speculation," but he observed that "we've seen them do things in multiples rather than singles."

"There's speculation that they may want to do something additional. There's also speculation they may not. So only time will tell," he told reporters after meeting here with Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew.

The unusually low yield of the first North Korean test, which amounted to the equivalent of 200 tons of TNT according to some US intelligence estimates, is widely regarded as evidence that the nuclear device did not work as intended.

A failure in the first test might lead the North Koreans to conduct a second test to correct what went wrong, and to put to rest international doubts about the workability of its nuclear weapon.

"Certainly nobody is discarding the possibility of a second test for a whole lot of reasons," the US intelligence official told AFP.

North Korea might conduct the test to thumb its nose at a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions for its first test, he said.

"These are all real possibilities, and the activity observed could be consistent with that, but it doesn't in and of itself really get you there," the intelligence official said.

The official said activity has been observed at potential test sites since the first test, but he would not describe it further to protect sources and methods.

He said activity at the sites was "not the decisive bellwether. And if people are working off activity alone, I'm not certain that's enough to say something's imminent."

A second intelligence official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the activity involved the movement of cable and people, and the appearance of a new structure at one of the suspected test sites.

But he, too, said the activities were not necessarily indicators that a test was imminent.

Unlike a North Korean long-range missile test in July, the official said, there was no obvious checklist of things to be observed that would indicate the timing of a second test.


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