North Korea may be preparing to carry out a third nuclear test, analysts and a high-ranking defector said Wednesday, citing language in state media hinting of an impending crisis on the peninsula.
Speculation that communist North Korea might conduct another nuclear test, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, grew after the South Korean cable network YTN reported Tuesday that the North has been preparing since February to conduct a test in May or June. YTN cited an unidentified diplomatic source.
Tensions are high on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship near the maritime border with North Korea.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said he had no information to suggest preparations for a nuclear test were underway.
However, analysts and a former North Korean official said recent statements hint of preparations for another nuclear test.
‘Its current path is a dead end’
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Wednesday that North Korea must come back to nuclear disarmament talks and fulfill its commitment to give up its nuclear programs.
"We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state," Crowley said. "Its current path is a dead end."
He said that if the North meets its obligations, it can have a different relationship with the United States and the world.
Earlier this month, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said in comments carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency that the regime would "increase and modernize" its nuclear arsenal to defend against the United States.
"As long as the U.S. nuclear threat persists, we will increase and modernize various type nuclear weapons as deterrent" in the days ahead, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based newspaper considered a mouthpiece for Pyongyang, warned earlier this month that the U.S. could face another crisis if Washington delays peace talks on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.
And on Wednesday evening, KCNA published a memo laying out the regime's nuclear policy — but vowing that it won't overproduce atomic weapons.
"It will manufacture nukes as much as it deems necessary but will neither participate in nuclear arms race nor produce them more than it feels necessary," the dispatch said. "It will join the international nuclear disarmament efforts with an equal stand with other nuclear weapons states.
The wording indicates that North Korea's regime is determined to possess nuclear weapons and wants to further strengthen leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power by showing to 24 million people that their leader is a strongman who can defy the U.S. pressure, a high-ranking defector told The Associated Press.
He said he served on the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party for more than a decade before defecting to the South. He asked that his name not be used due to the sensitivity of the matter.
U.S. troops in South Korea
North Korea cites the threat of a nuclear attack from the U.S. as a main reason behind its drive to build atomic weapons, and since last year has been pushing for a peace treaty. The U.S. keeps 28,500 troops in ally South Korea to deter any aggression from the North.
Pyongyang, which is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half-dozen weapons, conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.
After quitting disarmament-for-aid talks last year following U.N. Security Council condemnation of a long-range rocket launch, the regime carried out a second atomic test in May 2009. That prompted the Security Council to impose tough new sanctions, including a ban on all arms exports.
Yoon Deok-min, a professor at a state-run institute affiliated with South Korea's Foreign Ministry, said the North has been developing nuclear weapons according to its own schedule and could conduct a test any time to keep improving its atomic weapons.
However, Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, doubted North Korea would conduct another test, which would reduce its nuclear stockpile and risk further U.N. sanctions that could affect the survival of the regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said earlier this month that the United States knows the North has somewhere between one and six nuclear weapons. She did not elaborate.