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There is a growing concern that North Korea might be preparing to test a nuclear bomb. On July 5, the country test-fired seven missiles into the Sea of Japan, prompting a United Nations Security Council resolution, which condemned the country and banned U.N. member states from transferring missile-related technology and materials to it. A nuclear explosion would have much more serious consequences and further push North Korea into isolation.

The concern was touched off by an Aug. 17 report by America’s ABC News. It quoted a senior military official as saying that a U.S. intelligence agency had observed suspicious vehicle movement at a suspected North Korean underground nuclear test facility called Pungyee Yok in northeast North Korea. After the report, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said that it had boosted surveillance of the area and would carefully analyze intelligence.

Mr. Kim Seung Kyu, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying in a closed-door briefing to the National Assembly that North Korea is capable of conducing an underground nuclear-bomb test, although his agency has not yet detected evidence that the North is preparing for a test. South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang Ung told a parliamentary meeting that North Korea is estimated to have one or two nuclear weapons. North Korea itself claims to have nuclear weapons, but it has not yet carried out any known nuclear explosion.

Although South Korean intelligence authorities have not confirmed signs of an imminent nuclear-bomb test, including the establishing of a monitoring stand and data-collecting equipment, South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Chun Yung Woo flew to Washington this week to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill to “exchange assessments of the current situation.”

A pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan said that a nuclear test by North Korea cannot be ruled out. An editorial of Choson Sinbo said, “We cannot say for sure there will be no nuclear test by North Korea as part of strengthening its self defense, if the Bush administration steps up the hardline stance in military and other areas.” The commander of the General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army, Kim Yong Chun, was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying, “The situation on the Korean Peninsular where tension grows because of the hostile policy of the U. S. proves that we are right in building a powerful deterrence force.”

It is not surprising that China, North Korea’s traditional ally and main benefactor of aid, feels frustrated with North Korea. In a meeting in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and South Korea’s presidential security adviser Song Min Soon agreed that the two countries will cooperate to prevent a possible nuclear test by North Korea.

In meeting members of the Social Democratic Party of Japan in the Chinese capital, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said that China “would not be able to cooperate” with North Korea if it goes ahead with nuclear tests although China is against any moves by the international community toward full-scale sanctions against the country. Cui said that China is against nuclear-weapons development by North Korea, “including any test process.”

U.S. President George W. Bush said that if North Korea carries out a nuclear test, the United States, in cooperation with friendly nations, will remove the threats.

The six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program has been stalled since November 2005 when North Korea boycotted it over the U.S.’ financial sanctions against it. The U.S. took actions against a bank in Macau for what it regarded as lax money-laundering control, alleging that the bank helped North Korea engage in illicit activities, including distribution of counterfeit currency.

The U.S. has further strengthened the financial restrictions by asking Vietnam, Russia and other countries to investigate North Korean bank accounts. Banks in Singapore, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong and Mongolia are reported to be voluntarily opting not to do business with North Korea.

North Korea’s strong reaction to the financial restrictions rather proves that they are causing a substantial pain to North Korea. The statement of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on the U.S. move said, “We will pursue all possible countermeasures to protect our sovereignty and dignity.”

If North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test, the international community will present a united front against the country and the UNSC will adopt sanctions against it. China is reported to have reduced a “significant amount” of oil supplies to the North since the July 5 missile test firing. Even if China alone strangles not only oil but also food supplies to North Korea, the country will face a crisis situation. North Korea should learn that nuclear brinkmanship does not work any more.

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