August 17, 2006

North Korea may be preparing nuclear test: media

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Activity at a North Korean facility
suggests Pyongyang could be preparing its first test of a
nuclear bomb, U.S. media on Thursday cited U.S. officials as

But U.S. officials told Reuters they had no new evidence of
such a plan, and a diplomatic official in Seoul familiar with
the North's nuclear program said he was skeptical of the

ABC News quoted an unidentified senior military official as
saying a U.S. intelligence agency had 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."

CNN reported U.S. military sources said satellite images
had shown wire bundles appearing at a suspected test site that
could be used to monitor an underground test. It said the wires
had not been connected to anything and that it was still
unclear if a test was being prepared.

Asked about the media reports, 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.

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos declined to
comment on intelligence matters.

South Korean government officials had no comment on the
report and the diplomatic source in Seoul said he was not aware
of a new intelligence report.

"I was not aware of the area mentioned in the report as
being a possible site for a North Korean nuclear test," the
source said.

ABC said the suspected test site was an underground
facility called Pungyee-yok in northeast North Korea. The
intelligence was brought to the attention of the White House
last week, its 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 in a telephone interview that North Korea
was "very unhappy" about the U.N. resolution following its
missile tests and might want to show that "under pressure and
in an atmosphere of hostility they won't disarm."

(Reporting by Paul Eckert and Sue Pleming in Washington,
Jon Herskovitz in Seoul)