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Nations boost efforts to prevent threatened North Korean nuclear test

Nations boost efforts to prevent threatened North Korean nuclear test

International efforts to prevent a threatened North Korean nuclear test intensified Thursday, with South Korea stepping up diplomatic overtures, Japan seeking censure by the United Nations and Russia pledging to do "everything so that doesn't happen."
North Korea's neighbors closed ranks as a pro-North newspaper warned that the isolated regime wasn't bluffing when it announced Tuesday that it would conduct a nuclear test to prove it is a nuclear power.
Attention nevertheless focused on whether the threat was real or merely saber-rattling intended to gain concessions in long-stalled negotiations on its nuclear program, and when a test, if any, might come.
Amid the rising tensions, a U.S. military plane capable of detecting radiation took off from southern Japan, believed to be part of U.S. efforts to monitor any signs of a nuclear test, Japan's Kyodo News agency said.
In Seoul, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun ordered his government to send a "grave warning" to North Korea about the consequences of a test, Yonhap news agency reported.
Roh's move came a day after China issued its strongest rebuke to date of its longtime ally, North Korea. While Roh instructed his government to step up diplomatic efforts, he also ordered a "contingency plan" be drawn up if they fail, Yonhap said.
Japan urged the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement condemning the North's threat, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said. Both Japan and the United States agreed to consider sanctions against North Korea if it goes ahead with the test.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will focus on the North Korean standoff when he travels to Beijing on Sunday and to Seoul on Monday for summit meetings.
"All three of us Japan, China and South Korea share the same concerns," Abe said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, also held a 20-minute telephone call, agreeing that a nuclear test is unacceptable and pledging to step up diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was working behind the scenes with North Korea to try to dissuade it from conducting a test.
"We must do everything so that doesn't happen," Lavrov said during a visit to Warsaw. "We are working with the leadership of North Korea to stop steps that could negatively impact the situation."
South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States are involved in long-stalled six-nation negotiations aimed at persuading impoverished North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for badly needed economic assistance.
But China is thought to have the most leverage over North Korea as its traditional ally and main supplier of economic and energy aid.
In its sharpest condemnation yet, China pointedly warned on Wednesday that "no one is going to protect" North Korea in the event of a test.
"I think that they have to realize that they will face serious consequences," Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said.
On Thursday, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan warned that the North was not bluffing with talk of a test.
"The nuclear test statement was not empty language, but announced on the premise of action," the Choson Sinbo said. "Carrying out a nuclear test is an inevitable conclusion ... under a condition where (the country) declared possession of nuclear weapons in February last year."
The newspaper, run by an association of North Korean residents in Japan, is not part of the North's official media but is considered one of its propaganda tools. Its articles are believed to reflect the country's position.
North Korea often schedules actions to maximize their propaganda impact, as it did by testing missiles _ including a long-range model believed capable of striking the U.S. _ on American Independence Day, July 4.
In the next few days there are two dates that North Korea might want to commemorate with a nuclear test _ the ninth anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il becoming head of the country's communist party on Sunday, and Tuesday's 61st anniversary of the party's founding.
"I think the North would believe it's better to carry it out as quickly as possible, rather than delaying it," said Park Joon-young, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Ewha Womans University.
A test could come within a month, he speculated.
Japan and South Korea have said there is no sign of an imminent test, but a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation, said the U.S. is now seeing the movement of people and materials at a possible test site.
However, similar activity was seen a few months ago, when no test occurred. The official also said observers do not have a baseline for comparison, because North Korea has apparently never performed a nuclear test.
Establishing diplomatic relations with Washington has been a top policy goal of the North. The U.S. has said it is willing to establish relations with North Korea, but insists the communist state first give up its nuclear ambitions.
North Korea says it needs atomic weapons to deter any possible attack from the United States, although Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention to invade.
The North is believed to have enough material to build at least a half dozen nuclear bombs, but it's unclear whether it could deliver them accurately on a warhead.


Updated : 2021-08-05 14:52 GMT+08:00