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Reports- S. Korea closely watching North for another nuclear test
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean and U.S. officials are trying to confirm whether recent movements at North Korea's suspected nuclear testing site indicate the communist regime is planning another test explosion, news reports said Saturday.
Seoul is keeping a close watch on the movement of trucks and soldiers at the Punggye-ri site in North Korea's remote northeast, Yonhap news agency reported, citing several unidentified military officials. One official, however, said a second test was "not believed to be imminent."
"We are closely monitoring to see if these are preparations for a second nuclear test," another official was quoted as saying.
South Korea also has detected a new building being erected at the site, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unidentified officials.
"Intelligence agencies from South Korea and the United States are trying to confirm whether this new building is connected to another nuclear test," the official was quoted as saying.
Separate U.S. and South Korean studies have detected abnormal radiation in air samples, confirming the North conducted a nuclear test blast. The South Korean government has pointed to Punggye-ri as the most likely site of an underground test blast.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said it could not confirm the reports. The U.S. State Department refused to comment, and a Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. David Smith, said, "We don't discuss intelligence issues as a matter of policy."
There have been several reports of suspicious activity at Punggye-ri since North Korea's Oct. 9 underground nuclear test. But South Korean officials say they have received no intelligence reports suggesting another test is imminent.
The news came a day after the incoming U.N. secretary-general, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, met with Chinese leaders to discuss a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against the North.
The two sides "agreed on the need to put pressure on North Korea through U.N. sanctions so that it will give up its nuclear programs and come back to the six-party talks," Lee Yong-joon, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's task force on the North Korea nuclear issue, said Saturday on the news cable channel YTN.
The United States has been trying to muster support from South Korea for the U.N. sanctions resolution, a move that North Korea described as a "sinister attempt" to provoke a war between the two Koreas.
"This is an intolerable encroachment upon the dignity and sovereignty of the Korean nation," the North's National Reconciliation Council said in a statement carried by the official Korea Central News Agency. "It is a gangster-like act which clearly reveals (the U.S.) scenario for a war of aggression against" the North.
North Korea has refused to return to negotiations unless Washington lifts financial restrictions imposed on Pyongyang. It has also been pushing for bilateral talks with Washington.
A retired State Department Korea specialist on Saturday predicted that if President Bush refuses to engage in talks, the North Koreans, buoyed by their nuclear test, are prepared to stand firm.
"They think they can sit tight and tough out the sanctions and wait for a new (U.S.) administration to come in," said Kenneth Quinones, who is now a professor at Akita International University in Japan.
Quinones said North Korea is likely to demand a security guarantee that includes the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from South Korea in return for dismantling its nuclear capability. That would accompany existing demands for normalization of diplomatic and commercial relations, economic concessions and nuclear reactors for power generation, he said.
Associated Press writers Meraiah Foley and Kelly Olsen contributed to this report.