Seoul: North Korea has ramped up work at its nuclear test site, according to an analysis of satellite images released on Tuesday, a day after a senior US envoy warned the North that an atomic test would unify the world in seeking swift, tough punishment.
Glyn Davies` comments after meetings yesterday in Seoul with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts reflect widespread worry that North Korea may follow a failed April 13 long-range rocket test with its third nuclear test. Both of its previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, followed rocket launches.
North Korea, meanwhile, shot back in a statement today, saying it will keep developing its nuclear program if the United States continues to "stifle" the country.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman made no direct threat of a nuclear test, but said North Korea feels compelled to strengthen its "nuclear deterrent" in the face of US hostility. However, the spokesman also said North Korea is open to dialogue to resolve the standoff.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea professor at Seoul`s Dongguk University, said the North`s message is that "the US Should come to the dialogue table (with North Korea) if it wants to stop its nuclear test."
Late today, Davies told reporters in Beijing, where he is meeting with Chinese counterparts to discuss the North Korean nuclear situation, that he hadn`t had a chance to study the North`s latest statement but that his initial sense was that it was consistent with what it has said in the past.
"I don`t know that it adds or detracts from what we already know about the North Korean view about what`s happening," said Davies, the top US envoy for North Korea.
Satellite images taken by DigitalGlobe and GeoEye in the past month show heightened activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea`s northeast, including mining carts, excavation equipment and a large amount of debris taken from inside a tunnel and piled around its entrance, James Hardy, IHS Jane`s Asia-Pacific specialist, said in a statement today.
The most recent image was from May 9.
South Korean intelligence officials said last month that satellite images showed North Korea was digging a new tunnel in what appeared to be preparation for another nuclear test at the site. A new tunnel is likely needed because existing ones probably caved in and became contaminated with radioactive material after previous tests.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who took power in December following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, has vowed to place top priority on his impoverished country`s military.