South Korean intelligence sources have alleged that North Korea may soon conduct a new nuclear test.
“We have intelligence that North Korea may conduct its sixth nuclear test in the first week of April and are in the process of confirming this,” the Korea JoongAng daily quoted an unnamed South Korean military intelligence source as saying on Wednesday. “We have determined that North Korea is expected to finish all preparations for a nuclear test by March 31.”
Pyongyang has so far conducted five confirmed nuclear tests and numerous missile launches. The United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have already imposed an array of crippling sanctions on North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs. Pyongyang says the programs are meant to guarantee security against potential US military aggression.
Last month, Pyongyang fired a missile into the sea off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula just as US President Donald Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida retreat.
The North’s military also fired four ballistic missiles into the sea near Japanese territory earlier this month.
The South Korean daily further quoted another unnamed intelligence official as saying that there was “a high possibility” that the North would conduct a nuke test ahead of a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Florida resort.
Although the White House has not announced the visit, a senior US State Department official said on Tuesday that the two leaders would meet on April 6-7, the first in-person meeting between Xi and Trump since the latter took office in January 20.
“The timing of this [test] is no coincidence,” said Rah Jong-yil, a former head of the South Korean intelligence agency. “Kim Jong-un (the North Korean leader) clearly wants to overshadow the China-US summit and to underline the fact that he has nuclear weapons.”
Earlier this month, Washington’s ambassador to the UN said that Trump’s administration was re-evaluating its North Korea strategy, threatening that “all options are on the table.”
Pyongyang, for its part, has on numerous occasions lambasted the US’s polices in the region as provocative and vowed to strongly retaliate if its sovereignty is violated by the US military.
The US is currently conducting military drills with South Korea, an annual occurrence that draws North Korean ire.
China is also concerned by the drills. The influential Chinese state-run Global Times daily recently reported that the USS Carl Vinson was taking part in a simulation of a preemptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities.