August 17, 2006

North Korea may be preparing nuclear bomb test: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea may be preparing an
underground test of a nuclear bomb, ABC News reported on
Thursday, but U.S. officials told Reuters they had no new
evidence of such a plan.

ABC quoted an unnamed senior military official as saying a
U.S. intelligence agency had recently observed "suspicious
vehicle movement" at a suspected North Korean test site.

A senior State Department official, who was also not
identified, told the network, "It is the view of the
intelligence community that a test is a real possibility."

Asked about the report, a senior U.S. official told
Reuters: "We have no new evidence to support that." Another
official, who also declined to be identified, said there was no
indication of a threat in the near term.

South Korean government officials had no comment on the

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos declined any
comment on "intelligence-related matters" but said the world
needed to remain vigilant in preventing such a test.

"A North Korean nuclear test would be an extremely
provocative action that would draw universal condemnation from
the international community. We continue to consult with
friends and allies," said Gallegos.

ABC reported the activity at the suspected test site
included the unloading of large reels of cable outside an
underground facility called Pungyee-yok in northeast North

It said cables can be used in nuclear testing to connect an
underground test site to outside observation equipment. The
intelligence was brought to the attention of the White House
last week, the report said.

Fears about North Korea's nuclear ambitions were heightened
when Pyongyang defied international warnings and fired seven
missiles into waters east of the Korean peninsula on July 5.
The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution
condemning the launches.

North Korea declared itself a nuclear power in February
2005 without testing. Talks on ending its nuclear program among
the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have
been stalled since November.

Daniel Pinkston, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation
Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey,
California, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has bluffed in
the past to get U.S. attention.

Last year, activity at suspected North Korean test sites
led some analysts to believe the secretive state was preparing
to test a nuclear device, but nothing happened.

In 1998, U.S. spy satellites detected a flurry of activity
at an underground site at Kumchangri in North Korea designed to
hold a plutonium reprocessing reactor.

But Pinkston said that North Korea was "very unhappy" about
the U.N. resolution following Pyongyang's July 5 missile tests
and might want to show that "under pressure and in an
atmosphere of hostility they won't disarm."

"It's much more likely now that Kim would want to have the
option (of testing) available," he said by telephone.