Sunday, 19 August 2012

N. Korea may be preparing for nuke, missile tests

North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear or missile test in the near future, a government report submitted during a meeting with ruling party lawmakers showed Friday.

   "The defense ministry claimed that the communist country was prepared to carry out tests with little preparation time," said a senior Saenuri official, who declined to be identified.

   The party official said while the report alluded to the communist country's capabilities, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin did not touch on the matter during the meeting.

   Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests so far, and launched several missiles it claims are designed to carry satellites into orbit. Most outside observers said such rockets are in fact missiles the country is developing to target the United States.

   Senior government officials and party members discussed negotiations taking place with the United States to extend South Korea's ballistic missile range. Seoul sees this issue as vital for ensuring credible deterrence against North Korea's military threat.

   "Every effort is being made to reflect our views, that call for missiles with a range to cover all of the Korean Peninsula," Kim told lawmakers.

   Rep. Ahn Hong-joon, who chairs the National Assembly's Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, said the senior policymaker remained cautious about the outcome of talks with Washington but hinted at positive progress being made.

   During the session, the defense minister, in addition, expressed concerns the North may try to interfere with South Korea's presidential election slated for December as it maintains a hostile posture toward its southern rival.

   Kim's said his assessment was based on "rare" moves by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

   "(Kim Jong-un) is trying to exercise control over the regime by taking such steps as visiting a military unit for the first time in 73 days," the minister said, referring to an inspection trip earlier this month that was widely interpreted as a morale booster for North Korean soldiers ahead of South Korea's annual military drills with the United States.

   Seoul and Washington have made clear that the annual military exercise, scheduled for Aug. 20 through Aug. 31, is defensive in nature, but the North has consistently claimed it is part of a broader plan to invade the communist country.

   The minister, however, did not elaborate on how North Korea might try to affect the South's presidential election.

   South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik, who was also at the meeting, said he is still skeptical about claims by some analysts that Pyongyang has moved toward reforms.

   Kim Jong-un's recent dismissal of army chief Ri Yong-ho and his use of American cultural icons such as Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters fueled such speculations.

   "It's still early to conclude that (actual) changes are taking place based on a few signs," Yu said. "However, there's no reason to ignore those signs either."

   Related to developments in the North, the government and the ruling party said Seoul could consider offering flood aid to North Korea after the impoverished country was hit hard by a typhoon and heavy downpours that caused floods.

   Pyongyang claimed 210,000 people were displaced by the string of natural disasters.

   "Seoul is carefully assessing damage in the North and if it concludes there is a need to extend assistance, it can consider such a move then," a working level Unification Ministry source said.

   He stressed that for the moment, nothing has changed in South Korea's policy toward its northern neighbor.

   Policymakers halted all aid to the communist country after it was determined that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea in March 2010. The sinking resulted in the death of 46 sailors.

   The official said the ministry is looking favorably on a move by 21 lawmakers to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex just north of the demilitarized zone, to mark the completion of a road and bus station.

   The road and station were built with Seoul's support and will make it easier for North Korean workers to reach the industrial complex where South Korean companies make various labor-intensive products.Asian Defence News

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