SEOUL — There are increasing signs that North Korea could soon test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017 in a bid to improve its arsenal and increase political pressure, U.S. and South Korean officials and analysts said.
Two U.S. officials told Reuters that there were indications, including activity near the Punggye-ri nuclear site, that Pyongyang may be preparing for some sort of test, though an exact timing was unclear.
A South Korean military official confirmed that they were tracking activity to restore one of the tunnels used for nuclear tests.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined this week to comment, but said Washington is concerned about the possibility of new tests because they would be an opportunity for North Korea to enhance its arsenal.
“Every time you test you learn…. We know that this is a program that they want to improve,” he told a briefing on Tuesday. “And so of course, we’re concerned about efforts to do that.”
Analysts say that more testing could help North Korea reach its stated goals of making smaller nuclear warheads and improving their reliability.
A resumption of nuclear tests could send political shockwaves through the region. China and Russia had joined the United States and other United Nations Security Council members in sanctioning Pyongyang over its previous tests, but in the wake of last week’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) flight, both Beijing and Moscow signaled opposition to any new measures and said sanctions should be eased.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s envoy for Korean affairs, has called on all sides to show restraint, but said the root cause of…
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