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Japan's FM Warns North Korea Preparing For Another Nuclear Test

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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday he intends to visit the United States in the coming weeks to discuss the possibility of denuclearizing North Korea with President Donald Trump ahead of the North Korea–United States summit in late May. The rare inter-Korean conference with Western leaders comes after all the excitement surrounding Trump’s diplomatic breakthrough in March, whose hard-line negotiating tactics forced Pyongyang to realize that “if safety can be guaranteed,” the rogue regime would be “open to denuclearization.”

However, on Saturday, in a low-key speech in Kochi city, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono buckled from the script and dropped this bombshell: North Korea is preparing for yet another nuclear test.

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“Earth is being currently extracted from a tunnel where the previous nuclear test was carried out. North Korea is thoroughly preparing for the next nuclear test,” Kono warned, via the Kyodo news agency.

North Korea seems to be “working hard to get ready for the next nuclear test,” Kono added, who based his remarks on satellite imagery from the United States.

Kono expressed the belief that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders must act with caution over “Pyongyang’s recent charm” over its aspirations to denuclearize.

The foreign minister said, “there’s absolutely no need to rush things,” adding that North Korea could take advantage of world leaders who will be attending the upcoming summit.

“There’s absolutely no need to rush things,” the Japanese foreign minister said, adding that North Korea may take advantage of countries heeding invitations to send their leaders to Pyongyang for talks.

“There are signs of a thaw on the peninsula, with global attention fixed on two closely related events — an inter-Korean leaders’ summit scheduled for April 27, and a first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit expected to be held by the end of May. North Korea last conducted a nuclear test, its sixth and most powerful, in September 2017.”

However, 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korean military and tactical deployments, stressed that “commercial satellite imagery from March 23 shows quite a different picture: namely, that activity at the test site has been significantly reduced compared to previous months.”

“While it is unclear whether the Foreign Minister was referring to activity observed over the last few days or from earlier work conducted after North Korea’s September 2017 nuclear test, commercial satellite imagery from March 23 shows quite a different picture: namely, that activity at the test site has been significantly reduced compared to previous months. Tunneling at the West Portal, a site not associated with any of North Korea’s previous tests, had been active earlier this year but has slowed down significantly as has other personnel and vehicular movement around the site. (It appears that only a small amount of new spoil has been excavated from the tunnel recently).[1]”

Figures 1 & 2. A significant slowdown in tunnel excavation at West Portal.

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“Nevertheless, it is highly likely that the North Koreans continue to maintain the readiness of the nuclear test facility—one indication is recent roadwork—to allow nuclear testing in the future should Pyongyang decide to do so.”

Figure 3. Recent roadwork at Security Forces Support Area.

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While the North Korean regime is believed to be in control of four nuclear warheads, recent satellite reports at launch facilities reveal the regime has been gradually increasing the size of its missiles, although there are conflicting reports between Japan’s foreign minister and 38 North’s satellite imagery of developments at the nuclear test site.

Still, the Trump administration should not count their chickens before they hatch, and exercise extreme caution, as a high-level government official in Japan is now warning the next North Korean nuclear test could be nearing; which of course could be just the loophole Trump needs if he decides that the entire detente/peace initiative was a flawed idea, and it makes more tactical sense to revert to the adversarial posturing that marked most of 2017. 

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