UN to slap North Korea as nuclear test fears mount

World powers neared consensus on a statement warning North Korea against a nuclear test on Friday amid speculation that the secretive state might detonate a device deep inside an abandoned mine as early as this weekend.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, making his first reported public appearance since the Stalinist state vowed on Tuesday to conduct a nuclear test, held a meeting to rally army commanders.

But the country’s official KCNA news agency did not mention preparations for a nuclear test in its despatch, which said Kim was welcomed “with stormy cheers of hurrah”.

At the United Nations late on Thursday, Security Council members reached broad agreement on a statement warning Pyongyang of unspecified consequences if it exploded a nuclear device.

The text, which was sent to governments for possible changes before further discussions on Friday, urges Pyongyang to cancel its planned test and return immediately to six-country talks aimed at persuading it to abandon nuclear arms.

“I think it is important for the international community, through the council, to let North Korea understand that non-compliance would involve some consequences,” said Japan’s UN ambassador, Kenzo Oshima.

The test does not include a US proposal to refer to Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which lists actions such as sanctions and could ultimately lead to a military strike.

Diplomats said officials in China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia may try to change the text. Beijing has insisted that the now-dormant six-party talks—and not the Security Council—should be the main forum for resolving the crisis.

Pyongyang walked out of the talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States last year and has refused to return until Washington ends a squeeze on its offshore finances.

Test this weekend?

The US point man on North Korea, Chris Hill, told CNN that predictions were difficult, but a test “could come very soon”.

Three senior US officials with access to intelligence told Reuters that US speculation about a possible test centred on Sunday, the anniversary of when Kim became head of the national defence commission in 1997.

“We’re looking at this weekend,” said one administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The officials said Pyongyang, which has in the past timed bold actions and announcements to coincide with significant dates, could choose Monday, North Korea Worker’s Party Day as well as the US holiday for explorer Christopher Columbus.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was circumspect on the timing, however, saying he did not sense tension was mounting.

“Unlike a rocket, we can’t see it, so there is nothing we can say,” Aso told reporters in Tokyo.

Missile tests by North Korea in July were widely anticipated because satellite pictures showed them being prepared for launch.

A Chinese source briefed by Pyongyang said North Korea planned to conduct its test about 2 000m under the ground in an abandoned coal mine in the north of the country.

“They are more or less ready,” the source told Reuters after speaking to North Korean officials. He did not give a timetable.

His comments could not be independently confirmed, but South Korea newspapers reported that although there were thousands of mine shafts that could be used for a test, Seoul and neighbouring countries were closely monitoring three or four sites.

The Chinese source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pyongyang “may not necessarily test”, and might hold off if China and other Asian powers could convince the United States to lift sanctions and open direct dialogue.

John Park, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said North Korea’s intentions were difficult to gauge.

“Let’s be frank,” he said.
“We’re all dealing with only five percent of the information in North Korea.” - Reuters

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