Published : 2013-02-05 20:39
Updated : 2013-02-05 20:39
President Lee Myung-bak believes North Korea could detonate multiple devices when it goes ahead with a nuclear test expected in the coming weeks or even days.
In an interview published Tuesday in the Chosun Ilbo daily, the outgoing president also acknowledged the huge challenge the international community faces in seeking to wean Pyongyang off its nuclear weapons program.
The North has signaled that it will carry out a “higher level” nuclear test very soon, in a defiant response to UN sanctions imposed after its successful long-range rocket launch in December.
Lee said “higher-level” suggested Pyongyang might attempt to detonate several devices.
“North Korea is likely to carry out multiple nuclear tests at two places or more simultaneously” in order to maximize scientific gains from an event that will be globally condemned, Lee said.
Experts around the world are gearing up to analyze any test for what it might reveal about the current status of the North’s weaponization program.
Of particular interest will be any sign that its scientists have succeeded in developing a warhead that can be fitted onto a missile.
“If the North produces miniaturized weapons that can be used as warheads on missiles, it would really pose a threat,” Lee said. “That’s why the whole world is watching it so intensively.”
Lee has only a few weeks left in office at the end of a five-year term marked by an almost total freeze of contact between North and South Korea.
In his interview, he suggested that diplomatic efforts would make little headway in bringing about a significant policy shift in Pyongyang.
“I think it is difficult to persuade the North regime to give up the nuclear path,” he said.
Some predict the test will come before the Lunar New Year on February 10, while others suggest it will be timed to coincide with the birthday of Kim Jong-un’s father and late leader Kim Jong-Il on Feb. 16.
South Korea’s U.N. ambassador said Monday that a North Korean nuclear test “seems to be imminent.”
Ambassador Kim Sook told reporters there are “very busy activities” taking place at North Korea’s nuclear test site “and everybody’s watching.”
South Korea joined the Security Council in January and holds the rotating presidency this month. Kim said he was speaking as South Korea’s ambassador, not as the council president.
North Korea announced last month that it would conduct a nuclear test to protest Security Council sanctions toughened after a satellite launch in December that the U.S. and others say was a disguised test of banned missile technology. The council ordered North Korea in the sanctions resolution to refrain from a nuclear test or face “significant action.”
Pyongyang’s two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, both occurred after it was condemned by the United Nations for rocket launches.
The sanctions, aimed at trying to derail the country’s rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, bar North Korea from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology, and from importing or exporting material for these programs.
The latest sanctions resolution again demanded that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and cease launches. It slapped sanctions on North Korean companies and government agencies, including its space agency and several individuals.