South Korea Asks China to Persuade North to Avoid Nuclear Test

South Korean President Park Geun Hye sought China’s help in dissuading North Korea from any nuclear test, after signs of preparations at the North’s test site days before U.S. President Barack Obama visits Seoul.

Park discussed the activity at the Punggye-ri site with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the phone and asked him to try to persuade Kim Jong Un’s regime not to conduct a test, her office said in a statement today on its website.

“North Korea is at a stage where it can conduct a surprise nuclear test at any time depending on the decision of leader Kim Jong Un,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said yesterday at a briefing in Seoul. The military is aware the movement at the site could be a bluff, Kim said.

Convincing North Korea to renounce its nuclear program is a centerpiece of U.S. policy in Asia, and Obama will discuss the issue this week when he meets separately with Park and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, which is within range of the North’s ballistic missiles. China, North Korea’s main ally, has tried to revive international talks aimed at convincing the country to abandon its nuclear program in return for aid.

Satellite imagery from recent weeks indicates increased activity in the main support area of the test site, 38 North said on its website. The level of activity “falls short” of what has been observed immediately before previous tests, according to 38 North, which is run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

A test during Obama’s visit to Seoul “may be possible but appears unlikely based on the limited commercial satellite imagery available and observations of past North Korean nuclear tests,” 38 North said. “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.”

North Parades

South Korean intelligence officials have concluded that North Korea is capable of conducting another test at any time, the Yonhap News agency reported today, citing a Defense Ministry official it did not identify.

Obama’s visit to South Korea coincides with an April 25 holiday in the North to celebrate the founding of its army, a day generally marked by military parades showing off the regime’s latest weapons. North Korea fired 87 missiles during February and March to partly coincide with joint U.S. and South Korea military drills, which the country denounced as a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

North Korea, which has been targeted for international sanctions over it nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, insists that developing atomic weapons is the only way to deter a U.S.-led incursion.

The regime conducted its last nuclear test in February 2013, three weeks after the United Nations increased sanctions against it following the launch of a long-range rocket and satellite the previous December. The nuclear device had an estimated yield of 6 to 7 kilotons, bigger than previous tests in 2006 and 2009.

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