SEOUL, April 23 North Korea is unlikely to be
ready to stage a nuclear test timed to coincide with U.S.
President Barack Obama's visit to Asia, a respected think tank
said on Wednesday based on its assessment of satellite imagery.
Comments by South Korea's foreign ministry that the North
could be moving towards what would be its fourth nuclear test
prompted the U.S. State Department to urge Pyongyang to "refrain
from actions that threaten regional peace".
North Korea continually works on improving testing at its
Punggye-ri site. Satellite imagery analysed by 38North, which is
part of Johns Hopkins University, said that while there had been
a pickup in activity, there were few signs of an imminent test.
"Recent operations at Punggye-ri have not reached the high
level of intensity - in terms of vehicle, personnel and
equipment movement - that occurred in the weeks prior to past
detonations," it said.
"Moreover, other possible indicators present before the
North Korean nuclear tests in 2009 and 2013, such as
communications vans and a satellite dish intended to transmit
pre-test data, have not been spotted."
Work at the site is seasonal and often picks up in the
Korean spring. Some earlier satellite images had suggested the
North was digging multiple tunnels, which could possibly
indicate that it was planning more than one nuclear detonation.
38North acknowledges that the commercial satellite imagery
it uses may present an incomplete picture of the highly
The comments by the South Koreans have been repeated
frequently in the past and there was little new in their
assessment this week that the North could be ready to launch a
new test at short notice.
North Korea has been heavily sanctioned for its nuclear and
long-range rocket programmes but has pressed ahead with both.
Military experts say the North would lose any conventional war
with South Korea and the United States and is seeking to develop
nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
It has also used the nuclear programme to attempt to wring
concessions and aid from the United States. Washington has said
that it would be open to talks if North Korea abandons its
North Korea describes its nuclear weapons as a "treasured
sword" that it will never abandon.
(Reporting by David Chance; Editing by Paul Tait)