Seoul (UPI) Dec 30, 2009
North Korea is likely to conduct a nuclear test next year in an attempt to boost itself as an atomic power and shore up the regime's legitimacy at home as Pyongyang prepares for a dynastic power transfer, South Korea's state-run think tank warns.
North Korea is also expected to launch more long-range ballistic missiles and provoke military clashes along the heavily fortified border with South Korea, the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses said in its 2010 outlook.
North Korea conducted its second nuclear test last May following its first in 2006, which led to tougher trade and financial sanctions by the international community. Seoul's Defense Ministry estimated the underground nuclear test could have resulted in a force of 4.5 kilotons, much larger than North Korea's 0.8 kiloton test in 2006.
In April Pyongyang fired a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which is capable of being equipped with a nuclear warhead. It flew about 2,000 miles and crossed over Japan. The range is about twice that of a Taepodong-1 tested in 1998.
"There is a high possibility that North Korea would conduct a third nuclear test and launch more long-range missiles to solidify itself as a nuclear state," the KIDA report said. A third test "would increase the possibility of the international community accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons state," it said, noting that the North is "highly unlikely" to give up nuclear weapons.
In November, the North said it had produced more plutonium to make additional nuclear bombs by reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods "for the purpose of bolstering up the nuclear deterrent," it said.
South Korean nuclear experts say that 8,000 spent fuel rods could yield about 15 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium for one atomic bomb. The North is believed to already be in possession of about 90 pounds of plutonium, which would be enough for six to seven atomic bombs, Seoul's Defense Ministry said.
"With more plutonium in hand, the North may conduct a third nuclear test to miniaturize warheads enough to fit atop its long-range rocket," a defense official said. Baek Seung-joo, a senior analyst at the KIDA, said the North is likely to conduct one or two more nuclear tests to achieve global acceptance as a nuclear state.
In a related move, the North recently completed work on its largest missile base, which is capable of launching improved intercontinental ballistic missiles, military sources in Seoul said.
The Dongchang-ri missile site on the west coast is designed to launch bigger missiles than the Taepodong-2 the North fired last April at its other base in Musudan-ri on the northeast coast. The source said a missile launched at the Dongchang-ri base could fly up to 6,200 miles, which means it could reach the west coast of the United States.
The Dongchang-ri base is 40 miles from the Yongbyon nuclear complex, an indication that a new intercontinental ballistic missile could be equipped with a nuclear warhead.
The United States has promised to provide an extended nuclear umbrella under which it could launch a nuclear strike on North Korea in case of an atomic attack against South Korea.
But Cheon Seong-whun, a researcher at the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification, and other analysts say the nuclear umbrella would be "fragile" and "not enough" to shield South Korea from North Korea's nuclear threats.
earlier related report
The call was made in a policy-setting New Year joint editorial of the communist country's state newspapers. North Korean people must learn and memorize the editorial, which is seen as ideological guidance for the year ahead.
"The fundamental task for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of Asia is to put an end to the hostile relationship between the DPRK (North Korea) and the USA," the editorial said.
"It is the consistent stand of the DPRK to establish a lasting peace system on the Korean Peninsula and make it nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations," the editorial said, according to Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korea left six-party nuclear disarmament talks in April last year in protest at international censure over its launch of a long-range rocket. In May, it staged its second nuclear test since 2006.
US envoy Stephen Bosworth visited the communist nation last month and reached a "common understanding" on the need to resume the talks, which group the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States. However, no date has been fixed.
In Washington, a State Department official said North Korea should demonstrate its good faith by returning to the six-party talks.
"Actions speak louder than words," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "A good step forward would be to return to six party talks."
South Korea's unification ministry said this year's editorial is distinctive in emphasizing "dialogue and negotiations" as last year's editorial reaffirmed its commitment to denuclearisation and peace without mentioning dialogue.
Analysts also said it indicated progress.
"This means that North Korea's ordinary people will start being educated about Pyongyang's push for an end to enmity with the US," Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Dongguk Univerity told AFP.
Another professor, Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies, said the editorial indicates that Pyongyang will actively pursue dialogue this year, focusing on the conclusion of a peace treaty and nuclear disarmament.
The Korean peninsula remains technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 conflict between North and South ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.
The New Year's editorial "means the North will not call for an end to US hostility as a pre-condition for giving up its nuclear weapons but it will push for both goals -- an end to hostile relations and denuclearisation -- at the same time," Yang said.
The editorial also put great emphasis on what it called bringing about "a radical turn in the people's standard of living" in impoverished North Korea.
This would be achieved by quicker development of light industry and agriculture, KCNA said.
"Our building of the country into an economic giant is aimed, to all intents and purposes, at radically improving the people's standard of living," the editorial quoted North Korea's all-powerful leader Kim Jong-Il as saying.
Professor Kim Yong-Hyun said the North was now whipping up its people to increase production after the country last month carried out a surprise currency revaluation aimed at reasserting government control of the economy.
The editorial warned neighbouring South Korea against "committing acts that may aggravate the confrontation and tension, and take the road of respecting the inter-Korean declarations, promoting north-south dialogue and improving the relations between both sides."
"The focus on the standard of living shows that the regime is trying to solicit legitimacy for its power succession from the people," Jang Yong-Suk, a researcher at the private Institute for Peace Affairs told the South's Yonhap news agency.
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N.Korea's defence minister absent from key meeting
Seoul (AFP) Dec 24, 2009
North Korea's defence minister has been absent from public view for almost a month, sparking speculation about his status, a news report said Thursday. Vice Marshal Kim Yong-Chun, 73, failed to attend a national meeting Wednesday to mark the 18th anniversary of leader Kim Jong-Il's assumption of the army's supreme command, Yonhap news agency said. The ceremony in Pyongyang brought togeth ... read more
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