North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to defend his country against hostility from the U.S. after the totalitarian state said last week it will test a nuclear weapon.
Kim supported government statements that “powerful physical countermeasures would be taken to defend” the dignity and sovereignty of the nation, the official Korean Central News Agency reported late yesterday.
North Korea has probably made enough progress to test a weapon in “a few weeks or less” once the leadership gives the order, according to a statement posted on the 38north.org website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where recent satellite photos were analyzed.
North Korea on Jan. 24 threatened to test a nuclear weapons to derail “hostile” U.S. policies, after the Obama administration pushed through United Nations sanctions against the country for launching a rocket last month. The White House said the threat is “needlessly provocative” and will lead to further isolation and sanctions.
Kim spoke at a meeting of foreign affairs and security officials discussing events on the Korean Peninsula, KCNA said. U.S. reaction to North Korea’s rocket “indicates that the U.S. has reached its height in its anti-DPRK strategy,” the news agency said, citing a report to the meeting. DPRK refers to the country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Punggye-ri nuclear site, where previous detonations were conducted in 2006 and 2009, may be in a continued state of readiness, according to the 38north.org website. Analysis of the area was based upon satellite imagery taken Jan. 23 and previous images, it said.
“Snowfall and subsequent clearing operations as well as tracks in the snow reveal ongoing activity at buildings and on roadways near the possible test tunnel,” 38north reported.
A photo from Jan. 4 shows a group of personnel, troops or security guards, in formation in the yard of the administrative area near the test tunnel entrance, the institute said.
Imagery from Dec. 24 shows a new pile of material near the command bunker in the same area, although the purpose of the material remains unclear, 38north said. One possible explanation is that it is intended for “stemming” or sealing the tunnel in preparation for a detonation, it said. In the Jan. 23 image, the size of the pile appears to be diminished.
U.S. government officials have cautioned that North Korea is aware that American reconnaissance satellites are monitoring its nuclear, missile and other military sites, and often tries to deceive them. Such deception succeeded in the case of the December rocket launch that the officials said caught the U.S. off guard after North Korea made it appear that it had delayed the launch.
Kim has worked to bolster his legitimacy by continuing a military-first policy while seeking to boost an impoverished economy since inheriting the leadership from his late father in December 2011. Six-nation talks on dismantling the North Korean nuclear program, involving the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea, haven’t convened since December 2008.
North Korea has enough plutonium to produce four to eight basic nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea’s uranium-enrichment and other atomic facilities in 2010.